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Minnesota’s Forests have Untapped Economic and Environmental Potential

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By Gail Nosek, Communications Director, Great Plains Institute

A new analysis by the Great Plains Institute shows the challenges as well as the vast untapped opportunities for Minnesota’s forestry industry. The full press release is below, which was originally published to betterenergy.org on April 7, 2020.

Minnesota’s Forests have Untapped Economic and Environmental Potential
From storing carbon and creating bioenergy to producing building materials, pulp, and paper, Minnesota’s forestry industry has plenty of room to grow.

(Minneapolis, MN)— A new analysis shows Minnesota has plenty of room to grow when it comes to the huge economic and environmental benefits of its vast forestry resources.

A group of Minnesota stakeholders collaborated on the newly released “Emerging Market Opportunities for Minnesota’s Forest Product Industry,” which details the current challenges as well as the opportunities in the sector. This includes new market options for a wide variety of economically viable products and additional sustainable practices that could lead to new industries, cleaner air, and cleaner water. The effort was led by the Great Plains Institute with input and support from the Natural Resources Research InstituteBlandin FoundationDepartment of Iron Range Resources and RehabilitationUniversity of Minnesota Office of Technology CommercializationItasca Economic Development Corporation, and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Innovation in the forestry industry can support more well-paid jobs and be an economic-driver while at the same time contributing to greenhouse gas reductions,” said Brendan Jordan, vice president of transportation and fuels at the Great Plains Institute. “Minnesota needs to take a proactive approach, including targeted research and development and policy support, to support the new industry opportunities that offer the greatest promise to bring together economic development and climate mitigation.”

The analysis aims to give policy makers and industry leaders the full picture of what is possible for the state’s forestry industry. Among the paper’s findings is the growing worldwide demand for bioenergy as a cleaner alternative to traditional fuels due to concern about energy security and climate mitigation. Despite the growing market demand, Minnesota has reduced its policy support for domestic biomass electricity and has seen declines in wood used for that purpose.

A major existing opportunity is leveraging Minnesota’s Bioeconomy Production Incentive. Established in 2015, the performance-based incentive has attracted commercial-scale production for advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biomass thermal energy. Eligible facilities must be in Minnesota and must source raw materials from Minnesota agricultural or forestry sources or from solid waste.

The analysis also found that harvest levels of several tree species are well below the estimated sustainable harvest levels determined by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. For example, opportunity lies in mitigating the invasive emerald ash borer in a way that puts the thousands of infested trees to beneficial use. New markets need to be created to provide the economic incentive to remove dead ash and replant new species.

A key takeaway is the value of forests and the forest products industry in providing greenhouse gas emissions reductions, through changing management practices for forests, sequestration of carbon in products, and displacement of fossil energy. Many of these strategies require active management of forests and a healthy industry. Supporting new technology and changing management practices takes time, and the state must play an active role now to secure the environmental and economic benefits we want to see in the future.

About Great Plains Institute (GPI): As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Great Plains Institute (GPI) works with diverse interests to transform the energy system to benefit the economy and environment. We combine our unique consensus-building approach, expert knowledge, research and analysis, and local action to work on solutions that strengthen communities and provide greater economic opportunity through creation of higher paying jobs, expansion of the nation’s industrial base, and greater domestic energy independence while eliminating carbon emissions. Learn more at www.betterenergy.org.

Keep up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter.  

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