Social Acceptability of Biomass Harvesting

  Issue:Southern forests have the potential to supply woody biomass feedstocks for a range of energy products, from electricity to pellets and liquid fuels.

The American public generally supports increased production of renewable energy from domestic sources. However, there are also strong societal concerns about the impacts of increased woody biomass harvesting on ecosystems and rural communities.

As bioenergy development proceeds, it is important to understand how people view and react to both the opportunities presented by bioenergy markets and the significant changes in economies and landscapes these entail.

Study Description: The research team is employing an integrative research framework to define trade-offs and synergies across human livelihoods and forest values in the context of bioenergy development in the U.S. South. The researchers are using content analysis to examine the narratives and related cultural models that guide bioenergy discourse in different contexts, such as the public media, policy and management discussions, outreach programs, as well as among landowners and within communities. This discursive analysis will allow identification of diverse values, stakeholders, equity concerns, and governance processes that are shaping conversations, awareness, and decisions about bioenergy.

The researchers are also engaged in field research, guided by this larger analytical framework and rooted in comparative ethnography, in a set of research sites selected to represent a variety of types and stages of bioenergy development in different socio-economic contexts (Soperton, GA; Greene County, AL; and Waycross, GA). The researchers will work with forest landowners to understand patterns of forest ownership and use and to identify ways that biomass harvesting can be integrated in ways that are consistent with diverse ownership objectives, forest values, and management approaches.


  • Describe the social and cultural processes that affect social attitudes about woody biomass.
  • Suggest approaches that may facilitate more productive social dialogue.

University of Georgia, Center for Integrative Conservation Research

Contacts: John Schelhas—USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station