Tag Archives: climate change

June Message from Executive Director

Greeting Wetland Supporters!

I hope everyone was able to get out to explore a wetland during American Wetland Month.  We had a fantastic tour of our Wetland Treasure, the West Branch Nature Preserve near Charlotte on May 7.  It not too late to sign up for the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge boat tour on June 7.  Our other two 2022 Wetland Treasures tours are being scheduled (or rescheduled in the case of the Little Pee Dee Heritage Preserve), so keep watch on Facebook for those dates, you will not want to miss them.

One of our organization’s goals is to support all of our Wetland Treasure sites and maintain good relationships with the site owner.  One such case involves Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve in Horry Co., South Carolina.  I recently spoke to the Horry County Council (10 minutes and 30 seconds in to the video) about Lewis Ocean Bay and a the potential for a hospital be build nearby.  I was asked by the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League to talk about the Carolina Wetlands Association, our Wetland Treasures Program, and why we designated Lewis Ocean Bay as a Wetland Treasure.  Lewis Ocean Bay is largely a wet, longleaf-pine savannah and needs regular burning to maintain its habitat and biodiversity. If a hospital were to be built near the bay, the burning regime could be restricted and jeopardize the sensitive ecosystem of Lewis Ocean Bay.  The Horry County Council sincerely seemed to take our concerns into consideration.  This is the role that Carolina Wetlands Association can play in helping to protect our Wetland Treasures of the Carolinas. 

The Carolina Wetlands Association also hosted the first of many webinars on May 5, 2022 on the topic of with wetlands and climate change.  A white paper on this subject was produced by our Science Committee and the webinar was organized by Patty Cervenka. The webinar presentation was conducted by Heather Patti, the lead author on the white paper.  The webinar was a big success; we had a great discussion following the webinar and feel like people learned a lot.  We will have future webinars on other white papers produced by the Science Committee so watch our newsletter and other social media for announcements.

Talking about climate change, the budget proposed by NC Governor Cooper expands funding for natural and working lands conservation, restoration, management, and outreach – directly supporting many of the recommendations the 2020 Natural and Working Lands (NWL) Action Plan. Governor Cooper’s budget is a huge show of support for all of the work that was put into creating the NWL Action Plan which consisted of recommendations to restore and preserve wetlands and forest to sequester carbon.  Carolina Wetlands Association was a significant player in the development of the NWL Action Plan. Highlights include:

  • NC Land and Water Fund, for land conservation, restoration, and planning:
    • $6.8 million(M) recurring (bringing recurring funding up to $20 M)
    • $20M nonrecurring funding, totaling $40M for FY2022-2023
  • Parks and Recreation Trust Fund:
    • $3.7 M recurring (bringing the total annual funding up to $20 M)
    • $20 M nonrecurring funding, totaling $40M for FY2022-2023
  • Other Highlights:
    • $10 M to NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for peatland and pocosin conservation and inventory
    • $10 M for the NC Resilient Communities Program ($4 Million for Resilient Coastal Communities Program and $6M for the RISE program)
    • $2 M for NC Forest Service, Forest Development Program
    • $843,000 for NC Dept of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Coastal Habitat Assessment Program (staff, mapping, species assessments, and wetland evaluation)
    • $250,000 to NC DEQ for Equitable Community Engagement grants
    • $700,000 NC State Parks Prescribed Fire Crew and equipment
    • $18 M to NC Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services for the Swine Floodplain Buyout Program

 You can read more about the budget at this link.

This is all very good news and supports the effort of other nonprofits, universities, and local, state, and federal agencies.  These opportunities truly open the door for future funding of Carolina Wetlands Association projects to help communities in need to mitigate their flooding issues and bring many co-benefits including improved water quality, recreation, human well-being, and economic benefits.

Contact me if you want to help in any other these efforts.

Rick Savage 

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.