Literature review on sustainable wood procurement

A NCASI-sponsored study was published earlier this year in a paper titled “Sustainable wood procurement: What the literature tells us” (Journal of Forestry 110: 157-163). The authors are Amanda Lang and Brooks Mendell with Forisk Consulting. They summarized key findings from 208 articles and identified information gaps related to efficiency and environmental aspects of wood harvesting, trucking, and storage & handling. Examples of findings include: 

  • Whole-tree and tree-length systems have higher productivity and lower costs than cut-to-length (CTL) systems. Benefits of CTL systems include minimal residual stand and site damage and reduced labor needs. 
  • Compliance with certification programs and best management practices increases direct economic costs, but research is limited on the economic and environmental effects of certification programs on wood procurement systems. 
  • Life cycle assessments of carbon emissions from forestry activities show that harvesting accounts for the greatest portion. Tree-length systems and clearcut operations represent the most fuel efficient alternatives.
  • Fuel reduction treatments are expensive and uneconomical given current biomass markets. Integrated harvesting of timber and lower-value biomass is a more economical alternative for biomass production than fuel reduction treatments.
  • Log hauling inefficiencies associated with underused trucks and potential solutions associated with decoupled systems and pooled trucks are well documented.
  • Increasing and weighing payloads—through the use of scales or other tools—reduce hauling costs and decrease incentives to pull overweight loads.
  • Simple strategies exist to reduce fuel consumption, fuel costs, and carbon dioxide emissions in log hauling operations. These include reducing idling, decreasing tare weights, using singlewide tires, checking tire pressure, and reducing the throttle with high horsepower engines. Altering driver behavior can be the most cost-effective method to improve truck fleet performance.
  • Limited research indicates that sorting logs on the landing is cheaper than using a centralized sorting yard. Advantages of centralized sorting yards include (i) the ability to store and inventory wood; and (ii) the opportunity to reduce sorting error and maximize value from each log.
  • Water quality studies at wood storage facilities indicate that concerns about organic matter in logyard runoff can be mitigated by soil infiltration or runoff detention in constructed wetlands.

Important information gaps are in two main areas: biomass harvesting and trucking logistics. Priority research topics include: (i) effects of biomass harvesting systems and guidelines on site productivity and the economics of wood production systems; (ii) the costs and benefits of in-woods chipping relative to chipping at wood processing facilities; and (iii) barriers and solutions to implementing more efficient strategies and systems for wood transportation. 

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