June 2008


Greetings!

Here’s a quick update to point to some of the follow-up underway to address the challenges and opportunities identified by participants in Vital Forests/Vital Communities-sponsored events focusing on the role of forestry in the new bioeconomy.

• An article in the summer 2008 issue of Range View gives a nice summary of last October’s conference, Seizing Opportunity: Forestry and the BioEconomy, co-hosted with Iron Range Resources.

• Participants in the April 19th BioMass Harvesting Stakeholder Forum ( suggested a number of short-term steps aimed at helping the forestry community gain a better understanding of what biomass harvesting is currently underway or planned in Minnesota. The need and opportunity to create a shared format for collecting basic harvest information also was identified. Blandin staff are conducting a series of short phone interviews with a targeted list of land owners, managers and loggers to get a start on both of these efforts. We should have something more concrete to report next month.

• Itasca Economic Development Commission recently received a grant of $50,000 from the USDA Forest Service to study using biomass-fired energy systems to help Minnesota’s forest products industry reduce fossil fuel consumption and ensure long-term viability. The grant request was co-authored by Ainsworth Engineering in conjunction with Iron Range Resources, the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), Hedstrom Lumber and the Lonza Group.

• While in Thunder Bay, Ontario as part of the Seeing the Forest AND the Trees study tour, participants got to hear an operational perspective on opportunities and challenges to biomass harvesting in Canada by Mark Ryans of FPInnovations, a Canadian forest policy and research institute. Foundation staff are working on inviting Mr. Ryans to give this presentation to interested VF/VC participants via the Internet. We’ll let you know once we have a date.

• Dave Epperly reports that DNR has posted a new position for Biomass Coordinator Program Consultant. Applications are being accepted at least through the end of June. This is a great accomplishment for Dave, especially given the rough fiscal environment DNR Forestry is operating in, and really good news for Minnesota’s forestry community as well. The creation of this new position responds directly to one of the concerns expressed at the April 29th Stakeholder Forum about the need for increased coordination of this activity.

• The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has just released a press release on a new report on the economic and silvicultural impacts of woody biomass harvesting. The report was co-authored by Don Arnosti, who was among the participants in the April 29th BioMass Harvesting Stakeholder Forum. Based on a series of test forest biomass harvests from the Superior National Forest, the report concludes that such harvests could reduce the cost of fire prevention management while providing work for loggers and fuel for renewable energy facilities.

• Thanks to Keith Jacobson for sharing news with us about an upcoming Short Rotation Crops International Conference on Biofuels, Bioenergy and Bioproducts to be held in Bloomington August 18-22. The conference aim is to initiate and provide opportunities for scientific exchange and full integration of the science and application of producing BOTH agricultural AND forest crops for biofuels, bioenergy, and bioproducts. Early bird registration deadline is July 1.

• And finally, thanks to DNR’s Biofuels Program Manager Mark Lindquist for alerting us to the following: The MN Dept. of Agriculture has released their solicitation for NextGen Energy Grant applications. $2.7 million in 2008 funding is available for feasibility studies, biomass (including woody) feedstock development, and capital cost share. Applications are due July 31.

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Folks interested in enhancing the role forest-based industries play in sustaining our region’s economy, environment and quality of life have plenty of reasons to attend next week’s Crisis or Opportunity? – Sustaining and Strengthening Forest-Based Industries in the Great Lakes Region conference in Madison.

The June 23-25 meeting is being organized by the Great Lakes Forest Alliance, a non-profit organization established to foster and facilitate cooperative efforts that enhance the social, economic and environmental values of forests in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario.

Besides sessions on forestland ownership trends, conservation easements, and forestry’s role in the bioeconomy, participants will have a chance to attend the world premiere of a new video, Forest Floor to Showroom Floor: Marketing “Green Forestry” in Minnesota. Produced by John Whitehead and Fretless Films for Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities initiatives. The thirteen-minute documentary examines the impact on forestry, forest products and local economies of Aitkin County Land Department’s now ten-year commitment to third party certification through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

The video includes footage from Aitkin County’s latest FSC audit, follows Aitkin County’s local, value-added chain-of-custody for certified forest products, and illustrates how third party certification supports the county’s overall approach to practicing ecologically-based and economically-viable forestry. [John Whitehead also produced and directored another Blandin-commissioned video product, Minnesota: A History of the Land – The Northern Forest, which chronicles efforts to understand and restore Minnesota’s forest landscape in the face of the increasing threat of parcelization and fragmentation.]

A newly updated report to be released at the conference provides the larger context for the Aitkin story. Prepared by Dovetails Partners with support from Blandin Foundation, The Great Lakes Region: A Forest Certification Hub documents the Great Lakes Region’s continued leadership in forest certification efforts, representing 29% of all the certified forestland in the United States. And in just the first six months of 2008, at least 120 new companies in the region have achieved chain-of-custody certification, allowing them to label and market certified products.

From Forest Floor to Showroom Floor does a great job of telling the human story behind this success, including the importance of local vision and leadership, in Aitkin’s case, provided so ably by Aitkin’s modest but impressive Land Commissioner Mark Jacobs.

To order a copy of the Forest Floor to Showroom floor video, email vfvc@blandinfoundation.org

Bud Stone, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of CommerceThanks to Bud Stone, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, for sharing his latest Chamber Update with our VFVC blog readers.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Climate Change meeting in Duluth that featured some interesting data on greenhouse gas emissions. The speaker was Tom Mullikin, who works with the Charlotte law firm of Moore and Van Allen as a senior environmental attorney. His practice focuses on corporate compliance, regulatory relations and legislative representation. The data he presented showed that of all of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world, 94.47 percent come from natural sources. The highest contributors in the natural emission category are C02 from breathing, decay, forest fires and volcanoes, Methane from wetlands and termites and Nitrous Oxide from bacteria in tropical soils and the ocean. Humans contribute only 5.53 percent to the global emission pie. This may sound pretty trivial, but it is still enough to influence climate change. If you take this data trail one step further, you will find that of the 5.53 percent of global human-made emissions, China contributes 18.30 percent and the US contributes 17.44 percent and Minnesota responsible for only .37 percent. .37 percent is one third of 1 percent of all of the global human-made greenhouse gas emissions – not very significant compared to the 94.47 percent of global emissions that happen naturally. Of the 94.47 percent of natural occurring global greenhouse gas emissions, C02 or Carbon, is 70 percent.

OK. Now I want to share with you some other data that we received from the Science and Information Resources Division of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, when we were in Thunder Bay a couple of weeks ago with the Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests for Vital Communities Project, Seeing the Forests AND the Trees. Our best opportunity for reducing naturally occurring and human-made carbon emissions are in our forests. Trees use carbon and store it within themselves. During the process of using carbon, trees produce oxygen and release it into the air. The process is photosynthesis. You learned about it in grade school. The process of storing carbon is sequestration. It’s a new buzz word that you hear when ever someone talks about removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Now comes the “so what”? Forests have a Carbon Cycle. It goes like this: young forests hold less carbon than old forests, but absorb a lot to grow quickly. Old forests hold more carbon but storage rates decline as growth slows. For over all health, old forests have to die and be replaced by young vigorous forests, just like humans. Nature does this by using fire and other natural disturbances, which release C02. Or, we can do this by harvesting trees and capturing the C02 in forest products. Both of these activities result in new forest, but fire and decay releases C02 while wood products store carbon for the long term.

Back to the beginning. Minnesota does not contribute much to the global greenhouse gas emissions problem, but Minnesota’s Forests can be a significant player when it comes to reducing carbon in the atmosphere. We just need to manage our forests properly. Letting them burn or fall down and rot adds to the global emissions problem. Harvesting mature timber and growing new trees does the opposite.

One more interesting fact for you to consider. Wood as a biofuel is carbon neutral. Wood used in place of fossil fuels actually reduces green house gas emissions. So, go ahead and light a fire in your fire place, sit down in your favorite old wooden rocker next to your wooden end table inside of your wood framed house and understand that you are contributing to the solution, not the problem.

Blandin Foundation’s Vital Forests/Vital Communities Initiative is privileged to partner with Dovetail Partners, Inc. on a number of our projects. Among our collaborations is a series of Dovetail reports commissioned by the Foundation in support of VF/VC objectives. I commend to you the latest report, Green Building Materials: Made in Minnesota , a concise overview of green standards and, using Minnesota-made products as an example, opportunities for achieving modern day green building goals by “thinking local.”

The report includes an introduction to True North Woods – a group marketing effort, supported in part by Blandin Foundation, to promote certified local, green, quality products from “cold-forged forests of Northern Minnesota.” Members in the True North Woods collective branding effort make a wide range of “Minnesota grown” wood and forest products, from building and construction materials to gift and specialty items. The report concludes that opportunities exist to maximize the economic, social and environmental benefits of green building efforts by using locally-sourced forest products.

Buying and building with Minnesota-grown is good economic development, AND good for the forest!

Bruce ZumBahlenThanks to Bruce ZumBahlen for submitting the following guest post to the VFVC blog.

Dear VF/VC readers,

During the 2007 MN legislative session, the Governor vetoed an Omnibus Tax Bill that included a property tax break for woodland owners who have a forest management plan, The veto was for reasons unrelated to the woodland tax provisions. So close was the forestry community to having a law that would help in achieving the goal of having another 1 million acres under forest management plans.

But, you can’t keep good legislation down. That 2007 Omnibus Tax Bill was resurrected during the 2008 legislative session. It passed this time minus the provisions that the Governor opposed. The Governor signed it in early March. For the first time, MN has a law that provides the opportunity for woodland owners who are managing their property under a forest stewardship plan to receive a reduction in their property taxes payable in 2009 and thereafter.

As reported earlier by Matt Rezac on this blog site, the new law allows forest owners to apply to their county assessor to have their lands assessed at 0.65% rather than 1%. The management plan must meet the Sustainable Forest Incentive Act (SFIA) standards but the land can not enrolled under the SFIA (to avoid the perception of double dipping). The Tax Bill also changed the SFIA law. With the strong support of Senate Tax Committee Chair Tom Bakk, the SFIA minimum annual payment was raised from $1.50 per acre to $7.00 per acre.

Building on what had already been enacted, another bill sponsored by Representative Hosch was introduced this session to aid in administering the new property tax break. An attempt to lower the class rate to 0.55% failed, but the other provisions to improve what is now titled in statutes as “2c managed forest lands“ made it into another Omnibus Tax Bill. It was a nail biter, but the Tax Bill passed in the closing hours of the legislature.

This second Tax Bill raised the minimum acreage eligible for the tax break to 20 acres from 10 acres enacted earlier keeping the maximum acreage to not more than 1,920 acres. It eliminated the annual application requirement that will save time for county assessors and the landowners alike. Another provision allows split classifications of parcels with a structure so that woodlands could be separated from being subject to a higher assessed classification. The Bill also exempted the 2c managed forest lands from being classified as to their highest and best use.

The MN Department of Revenue will be preparing guidance to county assessors on how to implement the new law in the new future. So, give it a little time before approaching your county assessor to take advantage of the new law.

The following organizations partnered with the MN Forestry Association in support of the legislation: the Audubon Society, Avon Hills Initiative, MN Center for Environmental Advocacy, MN Deer Hunters Association, MN Forest Industries, MN Seasonal Recreation Property Owners Coalition, MN State Tree Farm Committee, MN SWCD Forestry Association, Ruffed Grouse Society, and the Nature Conservancy. Thanks to all for your support in encouraging retention and sustainable management of family forest lands.

Bruce ZumBahlen
MN Forestry Association