Drax Biomass, American Forest Foundation launch initiative to support private landowners in NE Louisiana, SE Arkansas

Bastrop, LA  – Drax Biomass Inc. and the American Forest Foundation (AFF) today announced a multi-year project to invest in the future of small family landowners around Drax’s Morehouse BioEnergy facility in Northeast Louisiana. The five-year, $1.1 million project – the “Morehouse Family Forests Initiative” (MFFI) – will provide landowners with the tools and resources to implement forest management practices that can increase the commercial, recreational and ecological value of their lands, and maintain crucial habitat for the region’s diverse wildlife.  Drax Biomass is a manufacturer of compressed wood pellets produced from sustainably managed working forests.  AFF is a leading forest conservation organization that works with individual and family landowners to keep their forests healthy and productive.

MFFI aims to increase the number of family landowners in Northeast Louisiana and Southeast Arkansas that actively manage their lands in accordance with the principles of sustainable forestry. Specifically, the project will encourage habitat improvements, forest biodiversity and certification in the American Tree Farm System, an internationally recognized certification program specifically designed for family and small forest owners, which is administered by AFF.  MFFI support the Southern Woods for At-Risk Wildlife Partnership, a program recently launched by AFF and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help Southern family forest owners protect at-risk wildlife, while at the same time encouraging sustainable wood production.

“Drax Biomass is excited to join with AFF to increase our engagement with local landowners and support their forest management efforts,” said Pete Madden, President and CEO of Drax Biomass. “Our business is built on a commitment to sustainability, and this commitment compels us to work closely with our suppliers – both current and prospective – to promote greater adoption of sustainable forest management practices.  Healthy forests benefit everyone, so we look forward to working with AFF and our neighbors on this important effort.”

Last year, AFF released a report, Southern Wildlife At Risk: Family Forest Owners Offer a Solution, that found family forest owners, who own nearly 60 percent of the forests across the South, are key to ensuring the sustainability of the region’s forests. According to the report, 87 percent of surveyed landowners said the protection and improvement of wildlife habitat is a top reason for owning land. Seventy-two percent have already implemented one or more forest management practice to support  wildlife conservation, with 73 percent indicating a desire to do more in the future.

The same study also found that the cost of wildlife habitat improvement is a key barrier to action.  In many cases, the potential revenue generated from harvesting operations, including thinning for improved stand producticity, can help offset these costs and incentivize greater implementation of forest management practices.  As evidence of this market response, 85 percent of surveyed landowners who harvest or thin their forests have also implemented other wildlife-improvement activities, as opposed to only 62 percent of those landowners who haven’t harvested or thinned.

Landowners who participate in MFFI will receive technical assistance and other resources to help them create individualized land management plans.   These plans are a critical step toward certification under the American Tree Farm System, which can open up new commercial opportunities for landowners seeking to supply wood to the forest products manufacturing sector.   This approach is based on AFF’s successful work in the Cumberland Plateau of Alabama, where the conservation group is working with hundreds of landowners to implement forest management practices that will improve wildlife habitat, water quality and overall forest health.

The MFFI project with Drax Biomass expands this into the Northeast Louisiana parishes of Morehouse, Ouachita, Union and Winn, and the Southeast Arkansas counties of Ashley, Bradley, Drew and Lincoln.  For Drax, this project is the latest in a series of initiatives to engage with local stakeholders on sustainable sourcing and forest management practices.  Previous efforts include:  Drax’s stakeholder consultation as part of its certification under the Sustainable Biomass Program; and more recently, Drax’s collaboration with the local environmental organization, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, focused on protecting Louisiana’s most ecologically important lands.

“Today’s announcement shows that Drax Biomass is ‘stepping up to the plate’ to ensure that more and more of America’s family-owned forest lands are managed sustainably,” said Tom Martin, President and CEO of AFF. “At AFF, we are committed to working with family landowners so that our forests continue to be healthy and productive. When we are successful, the world can get the energy it needs from sustainably produced biomass, while wildlife will get the habitat it needs to support healthy populations.  By partnering with Drax Biomass, we will be able to expand our work into a new region of the country.”

About the American Forest Foundation

The American Forest Foundation (AFF), a forest conservation organization, works on the ground with families, teachers and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage. A commitment to the next generation unites our nationwide network of forest owners and teachers working to keep our forests healthy and our children well-prepared for the future they will inherit.

About Drax Biomass

Drax Biomass Inc., a subsidiary of UK-based Drax Group plc, is a manufacturer of compressed wood pellets produced from sustainably managed working forests. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA with operations across the Southeastern US, we employ innovative manufacturing techniques to produce high quality pellets that can be shipped safely and efficiently around the world for use as a renewable, low-carbon fuel. Our pellets allow electric utilities to reduce their dependence on coal, lower carbon emissions and provide new sources of safe, reliable and affordable power. Led by an experienced team of operations professionals, Drax Biomass is committed to supporting the communities in which we operate by promoting sustainable forestry and investing in local economic development.

About Drax Group

Drax Group plc plays a vital role in helping change the way energy is generated, supplied and used as the UK moves to a low carbon future. Drax operates the largest power station in the UK and supplies up to 8 percent of the country’s electricity needs. The energy firm converted from burning coal to become a predominantly biomass-fuelled electricity generator. Drax is the biggest single site renewable generator in the UK and the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.  Its 2,300-strong staff operate across three principal areas of activity – electricity generation, electricity sales to business customers and compressed wood pellet production.