In last week's RFF First Wednesday discussion, the inaugural event in RFF's Resources 2020 anniversary series of lectures, experts emphasized urgently the need to tackle the problem of rapidly declining forest health. Biotechnology (in the form of genetically modified trees) offers promise but it is pushing the boundaries of regulatory institutions. For example, three agencies (the USDA, EPA, and FDA) all have regulatory jurisdiction over efforts to breed resilient version of the iconic American Chestnut (picture). Genetic modification is important for less iconic but more economically significant tree species as well. Should wood prices rise, work on transgenic forestry will continue and accelerate. However, transgenic forestry is likely become more important in South America and China than in the US, where its deregulation will occur only slowly.
The next decade of forestry management issues will also likely be focused around the role of wood for biomass energy. This will unfold in the context of the larger question of the role of biogenic resources and particularly wood in the renewable energy mix and its implications for land use. A question will continue on the larger role of forests in carbon emissions and sequestration. This discussion will include concerns over the need improved global forest measurement. Within this context the question of the extent of tropical deforestation will persist.
In the US the issues are going to be on threats to forests including infestation and fire. Also, issues related to the management of public lands and tensions between management, including forest floor fuel reduction, and benign neglect. Wood supply will not become a serious issue unless wood bioenergy becomes quite important, which it could well do. Tensions between traditional wood uses for industrial wood and bioenergy uses could increase as wood prices rise.