The Next Economy
ASU, Nature Conservancy Study Highlights Economic Benefits of Forest Thinning

A recent study by Arizona State University's Sustainability Solutions Services (S3) and The Nature Conservancy reveals that forest thinning could benefit the state by making its forests more resistant to environmental extremes and also strengthening rural economies. Just in the past decade (2002-2011), Arizona lost a quarter of its forests to wildfires, drought and bark beetle infestation.

“The loss of a quarter of Arizona’s Ponderosa pine forests in the last decade as a result of catastrophic fires, the reduced government funds for thinning, and the lack of a robust wood products industry in recent years has heightened the sense of urgency to restore forest health at a faster pace and a larger scale. Consequently, the key objective of this study was to identify economically viable scenarios for restoring forest health by accelerating harvesting small diameter wood (SDW), which is critical to the maintenance of fire-adapted ecosystems,” reads the report's research agenda.

“Our analysis shows that it is possible to make small diameter wood harvesting economically viable,” said S3 said Dan O’Neill, General Manager at S3. “There’s survivability and economic reasons to restore our forests. The market can drive solutions that help rural economies and reduce the need for government subsidies.”

The report provides an assessment of potential business clusters if Arizona sustainably harvested small-diameter wood, most commonly used in energy production and small wood products. According to the report, the proposed clusters could build upon existing investments to accelerate the harvest of small-diameter wood to be used in sawmills, which would in turn provide lumber products; the processed wood chips and sawdust would be sold as animal bedding or compressed logs; and slash biomass would become fuel to produce electricity and heat, creating a local source for energy. Through this model, new businesses would fund thinning projects instead of the government.

The study looked at existing businesses, reviewed current and emerging technologies, interviewed harvesters and manufacturers, and toured forest thinning and small diameter wood product operations in the State. Industry scenarios in various forested landscapes were considered using a generalized forest product supply chain based model. “These results give us hope that we can once again have healthy forests and communities” said Pat Graham, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Arizona adding that the organization had proposed the study “because there was uncertainty about how to attract more business investment to accelerate ecologically sound forest thinning before it’s too late.”

The Nature Conservancy released the results of another study last week — the first global survey to capture not only how much time kids spend outside, but also parents’ perspectives on the importance and benefits of time spent in nature. The survey, funded by Disney, included parents of children between the ages of three and 18 in the US, Brazil, China, France and Hong Kong and revealed that 65 percent of US parents see it as a “very serious” problem that kids are not spending more time outdoors.

In other ASU news, the University is engaging in a number of multi-sector sustainability partnerships, most notably aimed at increasing sustainability at the municipal level, including the “Reimagine Phoenix” campaign, aimed at educating, inspiring and engaging residents in the region to increase their waste diversion to 40 percent (up from the current 18 percent) by 2020; and its partnership with the Dutch Municipality of Haarlemmermeer to develop the world's first 'circular economy' regional plan.


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