MSU study investigates Michigan private forest landowner’s willingness to sell woody biomass

A recent study shows that almost half of northeastern Michigan’s private forest landowners would be willing to sell their timber for woody biomass energy.

Michigan’s forests are vast and cover approximately 19.5 million acres. Each year Michigan’s forests accumulate approximately 385 million cubic feet of timber growth in excess of removals. However, not all of the wood grown is available for harvest. Since non-industrial private forestland (NIPF) owners hold approximately 49 percent of the state’s timberlands their decisions are critical for determining wood availability.

Michigan State University Extension Specialist and Professor Karen Potter-Witter, graduate student Brett Kuipers and research associate Shivan GC examined the availability of wood for bioenergy use from NIPF owners in the eastern upper peninsula and the northern lower peninsula as part of a grant from the Frontier Renewable Energy Feedstock Center of Energy Excellence. This region represented the group of counties within 150 miles of the proposed woody biomass ethanol plant in Kinross, Mich.

The data collected from a survey of landowners in the region helped researchers understand NIPF owners’ opinions about wood based bioenergy. It also helped to identify the factors determining landowners’ willingness to supply biomass. The data included:

  • landowners’ perceptions towards bioenergy
  • their willingness to participate in bioenergy markets in the future
  • expectations from the market
  • factors contributing to their reluctance or willingness to supply biomass

Forty-six percent of the landowners surveyed had conducted a timber harvest on their property within the past 10 years and 42 percent of the landowners were willing to produce and sell timber from their forests for bioenergy purposes if markets existed. The price of timber and low investment costs were identified by landowners (66 percent and 50 percent respectively) as the most important factors contributing to their willingness to supply biomass. In addition, only 18 percent of the landowners were willing to supply biomass from their forests at the current market price of pulpwood, which is estimated to be $24 per cord. This number increased to 52 percent when the price was doubled. Fifteen percent of the respondents said that they would not harvest biomass from their forests regardless of the price offered.

In contrast, lack of interest in harvesting, the perception that income might not be worth the effort and concern about the ecological impact of harvesting timber for energy were the major reasons expressed by landowners (34 percent, 30 percent and 29 percent respectively) for their reluctance to supply biomass from their forests.

The results of this study also indicated awareness of and positive attitudes among a majority of Michigan NIPF owners towards wood-based bioenergy. Many landowners, however, have unrealistic expectations about prices for woody biomass. Landowners need information about the types and quality of wood that can be used for bioenergy generation as well as the probable market values for these materials.

Given landowners concern about the ecological impact of harvesting biomass, landowners also need to be made aware of Michigan’s woody biomass harvesting guidelines and the potentially beneficial impacts of sustainable biomass harvesting on the health of their forests. They should also be informed about the negative consequences of unsustainable biomass harvesting such as loss of biodiversity, nutrient leaching, and soil erosion.

For more information about the Frontier Feedstock Center of Energy Excellence research see the Michigan Forest Biofuels website.

The Michigan State University Extension Bioenergy and Forestry webpages contain additional information on bioenergy and forest management.

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