A new project that highlights the depth and diversity of one of the many symbiotic relationships that exist between landowners, the forest products industry and conservation organizations is coming to fruition in the US South. Drax Biomass and the American Forest Foundation (AFF) recently announced a five-year project to invest in the future of small family landowners based near Drax’s Morehouse wood pellet production facility in northeastern Louisiana.
The $1.1 million project known as the Morehouse Family Forests Initiative (MFFI) will provide landowners with the tools and resources needed to implement forest management practices that can increase the commercial, recreational and ecological value of their lands, and maintain crucial habitat for the region’s diverse wildlife. MFFI will encourage habitat improvements, forest biodiversity and certification in the American Tree Farm System, which is administered by AFF. MFFI also supports the Southern Woods for At-Risk Wildlife Partnership with the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and encourages sustainable wood production.
The MFFI project will expand the American Tree Farm System's best practices into the northeastern Louisiana parishes of Morehouse, Ouachita, Union and Winn, and the southeastern Arkansas counties of Ashley, Bradley, Drew and Lincoln.
This project is the latest in a series of Drax initiatives designed to engage with local stakeholders regarding sustainable sourcing and forest management practices. Similar projects that Drax has undertaken in the past include its Sustainable Biomass Program and a collaboration with the local environmental organization, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, which focused on protecting Louisiana’s most ecologically important lands.
Wood chip pile at Drax's Morehouse facility in Louisiana (Photo courtesy of Drax Biomass).
Pete Madden, President and CEO of Drax Biomass noted that “Drax Biomass is excited to join with AFF to increase our engagement with local landowners and support their forest management efforts. Our business is built on a commitment to sustainability, and this commitment compels us to work closely with our suppliers—both current and prospective—to promote greater adoption of sustainable forest management practices. Healthy forests benefit everyone, so we look forward to working with AFF and our neighbors on this important effort.”
AFF released the study, Southern Wildlife at Risk: Family Forest Owners Offer a Solution last year, which found that family forest owners, who own nearly 60 percent of the forests across the US South, are key to ensuring the sustainability of the region’s forests. According to the report, 87 percent of surveyed landowners said that the protection and improvement of wildlife habitat is a top reason for owning land. Seventy-two percent have already implemented one or more forest management practice to support wildlife conservation, with 73 percent indicating a desire to do more in the future.
The study also found that the cost of wildlife habitat improvement is the primary concern for most landowners. But the potential revenue generated from harvesting operations—including thinnings—can help offset these costs and incentivize greater implementation of forest management practices. As evidence of this market response, 85 percent of surveyed landowners who harvest or thin their forests have also implemented other wildlife-improvement activities, as opposed to only 62 percent of those landowners who haven’t harvested or thinned.
“Today’s announcement shows that Drax Biomass is ‘stepping up to the plate’ to ensure that more and more of America’s family-owned forest lands are managed sustainably," said Tom Martin, President and CEO of AFF. “At AFF, we are committed to working with family landowners so that our forests continue to be healthy and productive. When we are successful, the world can get the energy it needs from sustainably produced biomass, while wildlife will get the habitat it needs to support healthy populations. By partnering with Drax Biomass, we will be able to expand our work into a new region of the country.”
Landowners that participate in MFFI will receive technical assistance and other resources to help them create individualized land management plans that will improve wildlife habitat, water quality and overall forest health. These plans are a critical step toward certification under the American Tree Farm System, which can open up new commercial opportunities for landowners seeking to supply wood to the forest products manufacturing sector.
Private landowners in the US South demonstrate the many benefits of maintaining working forests that provide environmental, economic and numerous lifestyle benefits to the region. Despite the misinformation that is so prevalent in popular and media culture, Drax Biomass, AFF and private southern landowners are taking proactive measures together to ensure their forests remain healthy and active.