Biomass Harvesting and Sustainability

  Issue:The growing interest in using woody biomass from southern forests for energy production raises questions about possible impacts of new harvesting practices.

Woody biomass harvesting can remove more total volume and nutrients than traditional forest products management practices. Some states have developed biomass removal guidelines but the science basis to define acceptable practice is lacking.


Study Description: Four connected projects are determining how soils and forests respond to intensive biomass harvesting and summarizing current knowledge to develop guidelines. One project, in cooperation with Alabama A & M University, is focused on the review of current information and critically analyzing existing guidelines for specific situations across the South. Once guidelines are developed, a second phase of the project will be to begin developing a spatially-explicit set of harvesting guidelines that focus on providing science to managers so they can properly weigh risk instead of prescribing or proscribing specific practices.

A second project is in cooperation with Texas A&M University, and is finishing data collection on the response of the soil organic C in response to biomass harvesting and other forest management actions using radioactive C analyses and soil microbial dynamics to determine mechanistic processes.

Data from this project will also be used in a collaborative project with a scientist from the University of British Columbia and many other scientists across the U.S. and Canada to assess how soil microbial DNA varies across biogeoclimatic zones as well as in response to biomass harvesting. Finally, work on the Long-term Soil Productivity studies is being used in collaborations with scientists worldwide in a meta-analysis of biomass harvesting responses to climate, genotype, fast vs. slow-growing species, geology, and soil conditions.


  • Scientific basis for management guidelines on biomass removal
  • Better understanding of site variable response to nutrient removal

Alabama A&M University, Texas A&M University, University of British Columbia, Long-term Soil Productivity program of the US Forest Service

Contacts: Andy Scott—USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station