Mississippi, Louisiana timber growers must address demand for certified sustainably sourced woodfiber or miss out on commitments by renewable energy firms, other processors that could boost forestry sector, says industry executive

NATCHEZ, Mississippi , April 13, 2013 () – Industrial commitments made to the Miss-Lou in recent years could be a boon for local foresters, but if those industries were to open today, many local landowners wouldn't be able to sell trees to them.

Two companies -- KiOR and Virdia -- have made long-term commitments to build alternative fuel facilities in Adams County that will use tree products as their feedstock, and Drax Biomass announced in December it would build a wood-pellet production plant in Amite County at Gloster.

The problem is that at least two of those companies -- KiOR and Drax -- require timber that comes from sources certified through the American Tree Farm System. Adams County Forestry Association President Jack Stephens said only a small percentage of local growers have that certification.

"They require that you have a written management plan, that you are complying with state, federal, local laws regarding management, that you reforest harvested areas and that you enhance the forests regarding soil, site and water quality," Stephens said.

"Not only will KiOR and Drax require certified wood, other users of wood products will eventually follow the same. I think it is a trend we need to address."

The companies are likewise required to use certified wood in order to comply for any government programs or Environmental Protection Agency advantages they may accrue as a renewable fuel producer, Stephens said.

A meeting to discuss what local growers need to do to get the necessary certification to sell to those companies will be 6 p.m., April 23, at the Adams County Extension Service Office.

"We just want to say, 'Look, we want everybody to be prepared to sell their timber to whoever comes to Adams County, and here is what you need to do to get that done,'" Adams County Extension Service Director David Carter said.

Stephens said the objective is to get as many private landowners certified as quickly as possible.

"As soon as the progress on the construction of the KiOR plant begins in the not-too-distant future, they are going to look for the procurement of products (for) their plant," he said.

"We really haven't touched the wood since International Paper closed. We have a terrific natural resource, (and) a lot of it is privately owned. We have about two years lead-in, and I think we need to show we are progressing toward that to show KiOR, to show Drax we are environmentally sensitive, that we follow good practices -- which I think most forest owners are already doing -- but it has to be documented."

Stephens said the group will start working to get certification efforts started in Adams County and then try to branch out to Wilkinson, Amite, Jefferson, Franklin and Claiborne counties to get growers there certified.

"The peril for the local industry and land owners is that if we don't come up with enough wood to satisfy the needs of KiOR or Drax, their option is to go to large suppliers like Weyerhaeuser, where they are already under the (certification) program and they could supply all of their wood -- we would be, as private landowners, possibly cut out of the loop.

"I would much rather have that economic development input of the sale of timber stay in our community and our region."

Stephens said local foresters will also need to be trained how to do inspections for the certification process.

Those who want to attend the meeting or want more information should call the extension service at (601) 445-8201.

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(c)2013 The Natchez Democrat (Natchez, Miss.)

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