Statement from SELC on New Report Assessing Threats to Southeast Wildlife

A study released today by three major Southern universities, commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation and Southern Environmental Law Center, concludes that wildlife habitat and biodiversity in the Southeast are at risk due to rapidly expanding biomass energy development. The Southeast is now the world’s largest exporter of wood pellets for biomass energy, with exports from Southern ports increasing by 70% last year alone. The projected huge surge in European demand for Southeast trees for power generation is expected to have significant negative impacts on wildlife.

The report, Forestry Bioenergy in the Southeast United States: Implications for Wildlife Habitat and Biodiversity”, can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1iCZ2p8

For the study, researchers from University of Georgia, University of Florida, and Virginia Tech analyzed land cover and determined areas of highest risk of harvesting around six facilities located in Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, with sourcing areas stretching into Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. One of the case studies focused on a facility owned by Enviva LP, one of the major wood pellet exporters in the region that is sourcing pellets from whole trees logged from wildlife-rich wetland forests in North Carolina and Virginia.

The study’s analysis of Enviva’s Ahoskie, NC plant finds that over 50% of the likely sourcing area for the facility is forested wetlands — over 168,000 acres of wetland forest are at high risk of biomass sourcing from this one facility. (See executive summary, page 7: http://bit.ly/1jqy8yB) The study finds that the company’s sourcing of natural wetland forest stands for bioenergy poses high risks to wildlife and biodiversity, especially birds. 

In response to these new findings, David Carr, general counsel for the Southern Environmental Law Center, issued the following statement:

“One of the biggest concerns raised by the report is escalating pressure for cutting bottomland hardwood forests. Locating facilities in the coastal plain dependent on forested wetlands raises major concerns regarding the impacts on birds, aquatic species, and other wildlife associated with forested wetlands, which have declined dramatically over time.

Despite claims to the contrary, Enviva is sourcing whole trees from forested wetlands to serve its Ahoskie, NC facility and its two other facilities with overlapping sourcing areas – one in Northampton County, NC and one in Southampton County, VA. The study confirms that Enviva’s location and reliance on hardwoods is likely to have devastating impacts on wetlands and wildlife, particularly birds.”

This report follows the release in 2012 by NWF and SELC of an independent study showing that biomass energy in the Southeast is projected to increase levels of atmospheric carbon for 35 to 50 years compared to fossil fuels, exacerbating global warming in the critical next few decades. Sourcing trees from mature bottomland hardwood forests will likely make the carbon picture even worse than the 2012 study projected.

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The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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