Tag Archives: Carolina Wetlands Association

Pellet Industry Threatens Wetland Forests and Climate

Written by Heather Hillaker, a Staff Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center

We are in the midst of a global climate and biodiversity crisis, and the wood pellet and biomass industries, which claim to be a solution, are threats to both. Cutting down and burning growing forests for electricity actually emits more carbon dioxide than burning coal. These actions will increase atmospheric carbon for at least the next several decades—the exact time when we need to be drastically reducing emissions— while also degrading our native forests.

Wood pellets are made mostly from living trees, which are taken to pellet mills, ground into chips, dried, and formed into pellets. Enviva, the world’s largest wood pellet manufacturer, currently operates nine pellet mills throughout the southeast—six of which source a large amount of wood from North and South Carolina. Enviva acknowledges that 83% of its wood comes directly from forests, including forests within these two states (see map).

Wood Pellet Plants Exporting to Europe
Map of operating (yellow circle), proposed (red circle), and prospective (pink circle) wood pellet plants in the southeast. Source: Southern Environmental Law Center

Impacts to Wetlands

Over the last decade, independent, on-the-ground investigations have uncovered that Enviva’s northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia mills often relied on mature trees taken from forested wetlands. Most of this harvesting is happening within the Coastal Plain, an area that was designated in 2016 as a global biodiversity hotspot because of its high species richness and endemism. Less than a third of this area’s native vegetation remains. Harvesting for pellet mills is exacerbating existing pressures on these forests and contributing to the degradation of these valuable ecosystems, including iconic wetland forests.

The wetland forests that dot the Carolina coasts are some of North America’s most valuable ecosystems. They improve water quality, protect against floods, and provide critical wildlife habitats— especially for migratory songbirds that are appreciated by even the most casual nature-lovers. But despite these immense benefits, most of these incredible forests have already been lost, and what remains now are subjected to clearcutting to produce wood pellets that are shipped overseas to be burned for electricity.

Remaining tree stumps after a clear-cut forested wetlands.
Photograph of a clearcut wetland forest in North Carolina. Logs harvested from this site were documented entering Enviva’s pellet mill. Source: Dogwood Alliance

Impacts to Communities

The biomass and wood pellet industries aren’t just bad for forests, they hurt the climate and nearby communities too. Even though it is touted as “clean energy”, burning wood pellets from forests for electricity increases the amount of carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere for 40-100 years, worsening climate change. Moreover, the pellet mills located throughout the southeast, including Enviva’s pellet mills in North and South Carolina, release harmful pollutants and dust negatively impacting the health of those living nearby. These mills are built primarily in low-wealth communities of color, where people are already overburdened by an unfair share of pollution.

Let’s be clear, the wood pellet and biomass industries are not clean energy, and as the U.S. moves towards real climate action, we must make sure that our policies promote genuine low-carbon renewable energy sources. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes as European countries that offer billions of dollars in government subsidies to these harmful industries. Our climate, forests, and communities depend on the U.S. making the right choice by excluding forest biomass from any clean energy policy.

Call to Action

You can help by signing this petition to tell President Biden that biomass is not a part of our clean energy future.


Sign the Petition

About the Author

Heather Hillaker is a Staff Attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who specializes in issues surrounding the use of forest-derived biomass for energy. Heather is actively involved in SELC’s UK, US, and state-level work on the issue, including efforts to strengthen protections for communities living near wood pellet plants.

Wetland Tour: Richardson-Taylor Preserve

Please join us for a walking tour to learn about the wetlands at Richardson-Taylor Preserve. This Carolina Wetlands Association Wetland Treasure site is located in the upper watershed of Jordan Lake water supply which makes these wetlands especially important for water quality protection and water supply for hundreds of thousands of community members. The tour will be led by Tristan Bailey, Marketing and Special Events Coordinator and will be 1 ½ to 2 hours long, and is limited to 10 participants.

Wetland Tour: Weymouth Woods

Please join us for a walking tour to learn about the wetlands at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve. This Carolina Wetlands Association Wetland Treasure site is a breathtaking representation of sandhill longleaf habitat, and the longleaf pine seep wetlands that occur in this vegetative community. The tour, limited to the first 10 participants, will be led by a park ranger , and will be 1 ½ to 2 hours long.

May is American Wetland Month

May is the perfect time of the year to celebrate wetlands across North and South Carolina. Plants and animals have awoken from their winter slumber and are ready for your enjoyment. The pollen is mostly gone and days are warm (but not too hot) making for good opportunities for hiking, birding, paddling and just exploring a wetland near you.

2021 Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas

The Carolina Wetlands Association invites your to visit one our Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas. They are found through North Carolina and South Carolina from the mountains to the coast. Use our interactive map to find a place to visit near you.

Join us for a tour

We are hosting tours to our 2021 Wetland Treasures of the Carolians. Registration is limited so sign-up early.

  • Weymouth Woods Nature Preserve in Moore County,  NC
  • Carolina Beach State Park in New Hanover County, NC
  • Richardson-Taylor Preserve in Guilford County, NC

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Get news and information about wetlands and learn fun facts about our Wetland Treasures throughout May and beyond. Please follow us and like/share our message with your friends to help amplify our message.

Welcome to our Intern, EMMA

We are proud to introduce you to Emma Nani, the first high school intern for the Carolina Wetlands Association.

Emma is junior at Leesville Road High School (Raleigh, NC) and is part of the school newspaper and orchestra. Her college goal is to study Marine Biology or Environmental Science. She loves being outdoors, looking for wildlife or being in the water. In the summer, her time is spent lifeguarding at her local pool.

Emma will be assisting with our outreach and education programs including our volunteer wetland monitoring program. Keep an eye out for newsletter articles and social media posts by Emma . Hopefully there will be in-person opportunities to meet her in the coming months.

Program Committee

The committee is advocates for wetlands by promoting the value and services of wetlands to everyone. They develop educational materials about wetlands for the general public, state legislatures, landowners, local governments, and other conservation organizations and organizes and/or participates in events to educate the public. We always need fresh ideas to support our mission.

Program Committee

The committee is advocates for wetlands by promoting the value and services of wetlands to everyone. They develop educational materials about wetlands for the general public, state legislatures, landowners, local governments, and other conservation organizations and organizes and/or participates in events to educate the public. We always need fresh ideas to support our mission.

Strange Times: Message from Rick

Dear Wetlands Enthusiasts: 

Strange times, indeed! I had written a message for the March newsletter entirely focused on the 5th anniversary of the Carolina Wetlands Association and our Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas program. Then, like everyone else, I became consumed by the coronavirus.  I have been hunkered down like most of you trying to figure out how to carryout life in this kind of environment.  I am definitely learning I don’t need to go out in my carbon emitting vehicle as much as I do. I am walking more, planning my trips better, and thinking how the Carolina Wetlands Association needs to operate during the pandemic which could go on for months.  We are conducting our Board and Committee meetings virtually and we are planning on doing some webinars and posting information on Facebook. Stay alert for these announcements; you will not want to miss them. 

On April 22, we will be announcing the 2020 Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas. Unfortunately, the tours which were scheduled for May will be delayed until the risk from the virus has been eliminated.  I would like to reflect a little on what our Wetland Treasures program is about.  

First, the program was inspired by Laura England who brought her experience with the Wetland Gems of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association to the Carolinas.  The Wetland Treasures program recognizing these wetlands as having special value is important to keeping them protected, well managed, and open to you, our wetland enthusiasts to enjoy.  Selecting wetlands for this recognition is not an easy task because there are so many good wetlands in North and South Carolina to choose from.  The members of our Program Committee identify and select the Treasures based on our selection criteria. Once selected, we contact the wetland owner/manager and work with them to develop fact sheets and schedule tours to each site. The fact sheets are available on our website and can be used by teachers to broaden their student’s knowledge about the value of wetlands.  Once all of this is done, we then announce the Wetland Treasures to the world.  Truly this is a lot of work and I want to thank Carrie Caviness for leading this program for the last few years.   And of course, I need to also thank Jessica Tisdale and Amin Davis who have been the backbone of the program since it started.  It is a lot of work, but the dedication to this program is clear. A tremendous thanks to you all. 

So, for now stay tuned, stay in, and enjoy a wetland, remotely.  Check our You Tube Channel for videos of some of our past treasures. 

Stay safe all, 

Rick