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Mississippi Bio Mass Best Management Practices

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June 14, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about Mississippi biomass best management practices. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Randy Rousseau, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry Specialist.

Randy, can you explain the purpose of best management practices, or BMPs in forestry?

Randy Rousseau: A major goal of Mississippi's traditional BMPs for forestry, which were published in 2008, is the protection of water quality, ecosystems, sustainability of the forests, as well as the protection of various threatened and endangered species that live in our forest stands. In addition, these guidelines or regulations have been the cornerstone of forest certification, which has become necessary to carry on business.

Amy Myers: Well, how do the Mississippi biomass BMPs differ from the more traditional forest best management practices?

Randy Rousseau: To explain that clearly you have to know how we're defining biomass and why we're interested in this type of material. First, in our definition of forest woody biomass, this includes every part of the tree including the bowl or stem, the crown including the branches, as well as the leaves. In the past, only the best part of the tree, which is termed the bowl, was used to produce the high value wood products such as saw timber, veneer, or plywood.

In some cases the bowl of smaller trees, as well as undesirable trees and poorly formed trees, were also used to produce pulp and paper for a variety of products. However, following the harvest of a higher valued wood products, the remaining material, which is termed forest residue, was left on site since it was previously no economic value. But due to fossil fuel limitations and a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the use of biomass was sought as a source of renewable energy. So what was originally thought of as waste now held value and could be harvested to aid in the production of energy.

Amy Myers: Okay, I see how that might impact removals, but tell me more about how the biomass best management practices differ from the traditional forest BMPs.

Randy Rousseau: As I previously said, the material left on the site was a complex of tree parts. However, it is these parts that helped in controlling soil erosion and nutrient recycling. The small branches and the leaves provide greatly to the continued nutrient recycling following a total stand harvest and regrowth, thus the over-removal of this type of material may have a great impact on soil and nutrient loss. Therefore, the difference is the impact of that extensive removals of the residuals will have on soil protection and future sustainability of the forest. The biomass BMPs were not meant to override, but rather to work in conjunction with the traditional forest BMPs.

When following the rotational stand harvest and the removal of biomass from the site, the keys to when biomass BMPs would come into effect are first when following a rotational harvest of either natural or plantation stands, where forest residuals are being removed from the site immediately following the harvest, or later on a second entry. Secondly, whole tree harvesting, which is harvesting and chipping, followed by off-site removal of that woody material, removal of the forest residue on slopes greater than 30%, especially in the lush soils found along the west part of the state, as well as the removal of forest residue on deep, sandy soils found on the eastern part of the state from Meridian down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Amy Myers: So tell me, is there a lot of biomass currently being harvested within Mississippi?

Randy Rousseau: Under our specific definition, the answer to your question is no. However, you have to remember that this is a proactive step, as biomass has the potential to become much more important in the near future, although I will say that there is sort of a disconnect between what is being termed biomass in the pellet industry in South Mississippi. Today, the pellet industry is using trees harvested from first thinnings of pine plantations and then turning this material into pellets to be shipped offshore to Europe for electrical production. However, this material is from thinnings which falls under the guidelines of traditional forest BMPs, rather than biomass BMPs. The reason behind this thinking is that wood pellets have been linked to biomass in the literature, but pellets in this sense are being produced from necessary thinnings in pine plantations, which were previously done, for production of pulpwood used in the pulp and paper industry. In addition, the removal of such material does not really impact the site as it would as a complete harvest.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Randy Rousseau, Forestry Specialist. I'm Amy Taylor-Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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