Clearcutting the South’s Forests and Swamps for ‘Green’ Euro Energy

Some of the clearcut logging that feeds European "green" energy demand is done in swamps like in Windsor, N.C.
Some of the clearcut logging that feeds European “green” energy demand is done in swamps like in Windsor, N.C.

Today’s Wall Street Journal features this article, Europe’s Green-Fuel Search Turns to America’s Forests.  Below are some highlighted snips from the article.

It’s interesting to me that while we often talk about the differences between logging practices in the U.S. and Canada, we don’t often compare logging practices between the U.S. and Europe. The general conventional wisdom from many logging industry supporters has been that logging practices in the U.S. are the best in the world and we need to do more logging in the U.S. or else we’ll be doing logging in other parts of the world where restrictions and oversight are more lax.

However, according to this article, the type of clearcut logging taking place in the swamps of North Carolina to feed Europe’s wood-burning biomass plants wouldn’t be allowed in countries such as Lithuania and Slovenia. Could it really be that Lithuania and Slovenia have stricter – and better – logging practices than the U.S. of A?

WINDSOR, N.C.—Loggers here are clear-cutting a wetland forest with decades-old trees.

Behind the move: an environmental push.The push isn’t in North Carolina but in Europe, where governments are trying to reduce fossil-fuel use and carbon-dioxide emissions.

Under pressure, some of the Continent’s coal-burning power plants are switching to wood.

But Europe doesn’t have enough forests to chop for fuel, and in those it does have, many restrictions apply. So Europe’s power plants are devouring wood from the U.S., where forests are bigger and restrictions fewer.

This dynamic is bringing jobs to some American communities hard hit by mill closures. It is also upsetting conservationists, who say cutting forests for power is hardly an environmental plus….

The logging is perfectly legal in North Carolina and generally so elsewhere in the U.S. South. In much of Europe, it wouldn’t be.

tableThe U.K., for example, requires loggers to get permits for any large-scale tree-cutting. They must leave buffers of standing trees along wetlands, and they generally can’t clear-cut wetlands unless the purpose is to restore habitat that was altered by tree planting, said a spokesman for the U.K. Forestry Commission.

Italy and Lithuania make some areas off-limits for clear-cutting, meaning cutting all of the trees in an area rather than selectively taking the mature ones.

Switzerland and Slovenia completely prohibit clear-cutting. It is a common logging practice in the U.S.

U.S. wood thus allows EU countries to skirt Europe’s environmental rules on logging but meet its environmental rules on energy.

9 thoughts on “Clearcutting the South’s Forests and Swamps for ‘Green’ Euro Energy”

  1. Matthew, I would like to see the article, but it seems like you can’t unless you have a subscription.

    Also I don’t think anyone says that “other countries have poorer environmental regulations so it’s better to get wood from here.”

    Canada has different regulations but I don’t think I would call them “worse”, in fact their certification to their sustainable forest indicators may make them more transparent. But not sure that those are even “regulations”.

    Even certification systems like FSC are not standardized across countries.

    Not clear what your point is.

    • “… cheaper wood from other countries that may be harvested with lower cost labor and under less stringent environmental laws. … Despite being a nation with abundant forest resources, and states such as Oregon with high environmental standards for forestry, Americans have looked elsewhere to meet rising demand for wood products. This not only diminishes the economic viability of Oregon’s working forests, it also shifts environmental
      effects to regions which may not have comparable forest protection requirements.”

  2. I don’t have access to the full article. Or is it a commentary?

    “Loggers here are clear-cutting a wetland forest with decades-old trees.”

    How many decades?

    Where are the logs going? Direct to the chip mill and onto ships bound for Europe? Or are the sawlogs going to a mill and the smaller material to the chip mill?

    • Hello: I don’t have a WSJ subscription either. However, I found the entire article by doing a simple google search on the title, “Europe’s Green-Fuel Search Turns to America’s Forests.”

      Sharon, have you never heard of the timber industry’s “Shifting the burden” argument?

  3. Ya…Germany has about the same “forested acreage” as Montana…and logs 8 billion board feet of timber…while Montana logs .35 bill. (thats’ “point” 35).

    • Hello Derek, Care to tell us how many Wilderness or roadless areas there are in these German forests? Also, what’s the overall ecological health of forests in Germany? Seems like the “Black Forest” is in pretty rough shape from many different human impacts. Also do German forests still contain most of the native plant, animal and fish species that were found there historically? Is there ample opportunities for the German people to hunt and fish in their forests, like we have here in Montana and America?

      Also, if we’re going to make an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s look at some basic logging economics here. Seems like 82 million people live within Germany, while Montana’s population just passed 1 million last year. Could it be that Germany has dramatically more consumers (of things such as lumber, paper, etc) within relatively short hauling/trucking/rail distance, compared with Montana? Do you think if a cities the size of Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, etc were to spring up in Montana over the next decade that Montana would see an increase in logging levels? Or do little things like that not matter in your comparison?

  4. I personally find it disgusting that foolish (and stupid?) politicians of any country would write laws that encourage any type of tree cutting solely for burning for energy. There is something really wrong and weird that wood or coal can be shipped thousands of miles across the seas to burn! And for a profit…for someone.
    Burning slash or bark or tree trimmings locally for heat or energy production is one thing. But this report is scary and disturbing.

  5. There are vast forests on private lands, planted on former farm sites, including cotton. Landowners planted pines in anticipation of a robust pulp market. When that didn’t materialize. they were advised to thin their stands in anticipation of a robust sawlog market. Some of them thinned, and some of them didn’t. I tend to think there is a big glut in pulpwood, and people are selling their sawlogs locally, while exporting the rest.

    I saw private clearcutting, in the South. Since it rains in the summer time, clearcut logging often looks pretty bad. Sometimes, after a clearcut, you can see all the junk and garbage, formerly hidden by the forest. The clay soils become “greasy” after a rainshower, causing some problems. Water pools up very quickly.

    What should we do with overstocked plantations, Ed?


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