Effects of Chip Mills on Our Forests
A few years ago there was discussion of opening new wood chip mills in Tennessee . After much debate those chip mills were not opened, but one wonders what the mills would have meant for the economy and forests of our state. Now, with increasing interest in using woody biomass for energy and products, we should reconsider what increased harvest of low-value trees might mean for Tennessee .
North Carolina provides an interesting example. The number of chip mills in North Carolina expanded from 2 to 18 in the 1980's and 1990's. Despite this dramatic increase, a new study by North Carolina State University suggests that the effects of these chip mills were small overall. The new markets created by the chip mills tended to increase pulpwood cutting levels in existing harvests, or to increase harvesting of small stands. Small private landowners in particular received increased payments from the increased harvesting. However, the presence of chip mills did not appear to lead to clearcutting of valuable sawtimber, or to changes in forest management practices.
Tennessee 's forests are growing much more quickly than they are being cut. However, some of this growth consists of small or deformed trees that will never grow to be large, valuable sawtimber. In some cases, the lack of markets for these low-value trees has led to “high-grading”, a poor forest management practice whereby the valuable trees (sawlogs) are cut and the poor timber (pulpwood) is left behind. Chip mills, providing raw materials for pulp mills or biomass for energy production, may be a way to provide useful markets for Tennessee 's landowners and improve the health of our forests.