British Columbia’s booming wood-pellet industry threatens old-growth forests

“BC’s inland rainforest — which once totaled over 1.3 million hectares — is endangered, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature criteria, and could experience ecological collapse within a decade if current logging rates continue,” as Brian Barth reports in FERN’s latest piece, published with The Walrus. “The study [co-authored in 2021 by ecologist Michelle Connolly] found that 95 percent of its core habitat, forest located more than 100 meters from a road, had been lost since 1970. ‘We’re fighting over the last pieces,’ Connolly says.

“Historically, lumber and pulp mills processed most of the wood harvested in BC, but Connolly is battling with a newer, rapidly growing global industry: wood pellets. Roughly the size and shape of cigarette filters, wood pellets — also referred to as biomass — have long been a niche fuel for wood-burning stoves, furnaces, and boilers. But demand from overseas electricity plants, which can switch from burning coal to burning pellets with relative ease, has driven a dramatic expansion: from less than 2 million tons of production globally at the turn of the millennium to around 60 million in 2018. A $9 billion global industry, according to a 2020 estimate by a U.S. research firm, the pellet market is expected to double again in the next five years. European power plants have been among the biggest consumers — pellet-fired power plants are uncommon in North America — but demand from Japan and South Korea has also increased in recent years.”