Canadian Forest Service Publications

Environmental sustainability aspects of forest biomass mobilisation. 2016. Egnell, G.; Paré, D.; Thiffault, E.; Lamers, P. Pages 50-67 in Thiffault, E.; Smith, C.T.; Junginger, M.; Berndes, G., eds. Mobilisation of Forest Bioenergy in the Boreal and Temperate Biomes: Challenges, Opportunities and Case Studies. Academic Press, London, UK.

Year: 2016

Issued by: Laurentian Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 36617

Language: English

CFS Availability: Not available through the CFS (click for more information).

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The environmental sustainability of forest biomass procurement needs to be well understood, as the capacity of ecosystems to provide biomass, without negative impacts on ecological functioning, limits the biomass potential. Emerging bioenergy markets typically first take advantage of secondary residue streams of various wood processing industries and tertiary end-of-life residues. The use of these secondary and tertiary wood resources is not likely to compromise the environmental sustainability of forests. When these resources, in any region, become scarce or fully utilised, primary residues (ie by-products of forestry harvesting operations and silvicultural practices) such as branches, tops and non-merchantable trees become increasingly targeted as feedstock sources. Forest biomass procurement in the boreal and temperate biomes should therefore not be analysed as a stand-alone activity, but rather as an intensification of land use and of forest management, in which tree parts and trees are harvested, in addition to conventional forest product fractions. Thus, principles of protection and sustainability should remain the same, whether forests are managed for conventional forest products only or also for biomass for energy. Some modifications may be needed to properly identify and find mitigation strategies for sensitive conditions where field evidence suggests that the incremental removal of biomass, or other forms of intensive management, may not be sustainable. Silvicultural practices, such as fertilisation, competition control and soil preparation are options to manage the microenvironment and tree growing conditions, as well to prevent or mitigate negative impacts. Moreover, landscape management regulations should be put in place to ensure that sufficient biodiversity-important features, such as dead wood, aging stands, corridors, etc., are preserved. Special attention should then be directed to trees and stands with high biodiversity values, or those important for maintaining ecosystem services. Applying the concept of adaptive forest management, ecological monitoring following harvesting operations, scientific field testing and modelling should be combined to produce better knowledge that could help improve practices. The forestry sector needs to start adapting to a future situation where it is expected to provide conventional forest products, biomaterials and bioenergy. To achieve this, good governance mechanisms, such as landscape-level land-use planning and science-based improvements of practices, will become increasingly important to ensure sustainable forest product supply chains.

Plain Language Summary

Based on current climatic conditions and energy policies, bioenergy markets are not likely to generate a substantial rise in tree harvesting; therefore, the forest area in the boreal and temperate regions would likely remain unchanged.

According to the researchers, the need for forest biomass supply should intensify land management activities and should therefore become an integral part of the forest management strategy.

Based on site conditions (soil, temperature, etc.), the biomass supply will have a positive, negative, or no effect on the other services provided by the ecosystem. Increasing biomass harvesting will not necessarily compromise ecosystem services (air quality, water quality, wildlife habitats, etc.). Mitigation measures, such as fertilization, the conservation of dead wood in the forest and the protection of old-growth forests, can also be implemented.