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Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines


It's time to draw some lines - The current push to increase utilization of woody biomass for energy and other uses is shaping up to be a classic case of where to draw the line on resource extraction.  The hottest questions concern soil productivity and maintenance of biodiversity, but water resource and aesthetic issues are also involved.  We know that some forests are very sensitive to biomass removal, others are very resilient, and most fall somewhere between.  We would like to know a lot more before drawing the line, but more boilers are being fired up, and it's time to make judgments based on the knowledge that we do have.  We can adapt as we learn more.  Delaying action will invite excessive harvesting and subsequent problems that will inhibit the development of the sustainable uses that are needed.


Who will enforce the lines? - In large part, observance of woody biomass harvesting guidelines will depend on the voluntary ethical conduct of foresters, loggers, and landowners.  The only real enforcement under current circumstances will likely come from forest certification auditors who are obliged to issue corrective action requests for unsustainable practices and who may decertify entities that continue such practices.  The standards of the two main certification programs in Michigan, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), both contain strong statements that require limiting biomass harvests in many situations.


This page provides the following information on woody biomass harvesting guidelines: 


Summary of the Issues Related to Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines


The Information Sets page contains links to key literature on the impacts of woody biomass harvesting.  Summary statements will be posted here in the future.


Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines in Michigan


In the fall of 2007, The Michigan Department of Natural Resources Forest, Mineral, and Fire Management Division initiated a formal process for developing woody biomass harvesting guidelines.  The process is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.  The first step will be a review of similar efforts in other areas.


Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines from Other Geographic Areas


Minnesota - Minnesota was the first state in the Lake States region to issue biomass harvesting guidelines.  The Minnesota Forest Resources Council (MFRC) has completed development of its biomass harvesting guidelines for forestlands, brushlands and open lands.  These new guidelines are designed to be included in the MFRC's 2005 forest management guidebook titled Sustaining Minnesota Forest Resources: Voluntary Site-Level Forest Management Guidelines for Landowners, Loggers and Resource Managers The new biomass guidelines are presented as two additional chapters to the 2005 guidebook:



July 21 - The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has released guidelines for harvesting forest biomass as an alternative energy source. The guidelines were prepared with comments from various stakeholder groups after DCNR's two-year study of forest biomass energy and related issues.


Among the conclusions in the report:

- Current estimates of available low-grade wood that is most likely to be sought for energy use are overly optimistic.

- Use of forest biomass for energy must first consider the many ecological, social, and practical concerns associated with its harvest.

- Harvesting forest biomass for energy production will compete with the commonwealth's forest products industry.

- The costs of harvesting forest biomass for energy production are not well understood by emerging industries.


For more information, visit the PA Department of Conservation website. The biomass report is available here.


Wisconsin - In September 2007, the Wisconsin Council on Forestry decided to sponsor the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry in an effort to develop guidelines for the harvest of woody biomass on Wisconsin's forestlands. Guideline development will build on the work done by the Minnesota Forest Resources Council. The process will include expert review, stakeholder advisory committee input, and approval by the Wisconsin Council on Forestry. The guidelines are expected to be completed by June 2009. If approved, these guidelines may become part of Wisconsin's Forest Management Guidelines.


Maine - The State of Maine is in the process of developing biomass harvesting guidelines.


Canada - Information on Provincial biomass harvesting guidelines will be postd here in the future.



Soil Suitability Ratings for Woody Biomass Harvesting in the UP

Soil Suitability for Biomass Harvesting is Site Specific - The literature on the impacts of woody biomass harvesting overwhelmingly indicates that soils have a wide range of sensitivities to biomass removal, and that these sensitivities are very site specific (not to mention seasonally specific).  Fortunately, as of fall 2007, soil mapping at a resolution of 3-4 acres is available in digital format for the entire UP.  Many chemical and physical properties have been determined for each soil type. These properties have been combined in various ways to provide suitability ratings for many types of uses.  However, no ratings for woody biomass harvesting have been produced, until now. 

BURN-UP Project Has Developed GIS Maps of Soil Ratings for Biomass Harvesting - Using six of the most relevant soil properties and existing ratings, the BURN-UP Project has developed  the "UP Woody Biomass Harvest Soil Suitability Rating (Version 1)."   The rating consists of 15 electronic maps in ESRI shapefile format, one for each county in the UP.  A wide variety of factors were considered for the rating.  Many of the candidate factors were eliminated due to insufficient coverage of the region.  Version 1 of the rating is based on six factors, three representing soil quality in terms of plant productivity (Calcium Carbonate, Organic Matter, and Available Water Supply), one representing soil quantity (Depth to Any Restriction), one representing risk of erosion (Representative Slope), and one representing runoff/infiltration rate (Hydrological Group).   These six factors were combined into a composite score for each soil survey mapunit.

Technical Details on Scoring Mapunits - With method used, the maximum possible score for a mapunit is 30 points with more points given for greater suitability.  Most of the factors were scored 1-5.  The exceptions were Depth to Any Restriction, which was scored 1-6 to give it somewhat higher weighting as the only soil quantity factor, and Hydrological Group, which was scored 1-4, as there are only four groups.  For each factor the scores were established by the "equal interval" classification method in the ArcMap software.  Due to filesize limitations, the ratings had to be developed in two separate rounds, one for the eastern six counties, and one for the western nine counties of the UP (see lists below).  Thus, scores for the two subregions are not exactly comparable. The attribute tables of the shapefiles contain the original values of the factors used, as well as the generated ratings, so one could apply different scoring methods.  The field names used for the 6-factor composite scores in the shapefile attribute tables are EastUP_6R and WestUP_6R, respectively. 

How to Use the "UP Woody Biomass Harvest Soil Suitability Rating" - The rating is a map-based tool that provides site-specific guidance about the suitability of a soil mapunit for biomass harvesting from as soil sustainability perspective.  The rating does not provide quantitative guidance about how much biomass should be retained on site.  It only provides a relative scale of suitability/sensitivity, but one that is based on good scientific data.  Other considerations, such as wildlife habitat and aesthetics, although important, are not included in the rating.   To be able to use the rating, one must have a GIS system capable of displaying ESRI shapefiles and a working knowledge of the system. By varying the symbology used to display the data, the ratings can be used for site-specific guidance and for county-wide or regional analysis.

How to Obtain the "UP Woody Biomass Harvest Soil Suitability Rating" - The shapefiles for the rating (and associated accessory files in ZIP format) can be downloaded by clicking on the name(s) of the county(s) of interest in the following list:


Eastern UP:

Alger (29 MB)

Chippewa (16 MB)

Delta (18 MB)

Luce (8 MB)

Mackinac (10 MB)

Schoolcraft (36 MB)


Western UP:

Baraga (12 MB)

Dickinson (41 MB)

Gogebic (33 MB)

Houghton (9 MB)

Iron (52 MB)

Keweenaw (5 MB)

Marquette (63 MB)

Menominee (54 MB)

Ontonagon (33 MB)


Can the UP Woody Biomass Harvest Soil Suitability Rating be Improved? - Undoubtedly!  The easiest improvement to make would be to use a scoring system that is based on meaningful value classes rather than arbitrarily dividing the values into equal interval classes.  Other improvements are possible through the use of other factors that were eliminated due to lack of geographic coverage, assuming the missing data become available. 


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Adopted by the ESA Governing Board, January 2008.

The Ecological Society of America is the country's primary professional organization of ecologists, representing 10,000 scientists in the United States and around the world.  Since its founding in 1915, ESA has pursued the promotion of the responsible application of ecological principles to the solution of environmental problems through ESA reports, journals, research, and expert testimony to Congress.


This page last updated on 10/16/2008.
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