A private firewood pile.
Whilst the market for lumber has stagnated, with prices not having changed for 30 years, the market for wood as a bio-fuel has really taken off in the last few years.
Firewood in the Forest of Preuilly.
This has led to concerns expressed by the President of the Union of Private Foresters that without a unified management plan the Touraine risks deforestation. He has told his 440 members that if they opportunistically cut their woods for fuel without succession planning, bio-fuel is a mirage. Wood has already been in short supply for several years.
A parcel in the Forest of Preuilly managed for both lumber and firewood.
The development of power plants using wood-chip (Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, Orleans that partially serves the Touraine, and soon Descartes) led some owners to develop coppice which allows a high rotation (the trees are cut every five years). Long term though it exhausts the soil because it consumes a lot of nitrogen. The president of the Private Foresters Union, Antoine Reille, believes that this production is not well managed and wood that is still wet is often being burned. Although he doesn't say so, I suspect that there is also a problem with much smaller diameter wood now having a commercial value and being removed, whereas before it would have been left to rot and replenish the soil.
A parcel of young oak trees in the Forest of Preuilly.
Reille is not ignoring the delicate balancing act required to ensure cash flow in the short, medium and long term. Coppice will make useable firewood in 25 years, a standard oak tree takes 80 years. But he feels that the market is only going to expand and there should be a sensible overarching management plan for the private forests.
A walking trail in the section of the Preuilly Forest put aside for leisure activities.
The Arbocentre Wood Energy Sector Manager is more optimistic. He acknowledges how tempting it is to seize the opportunity offered by bio-fuel. He believes the way forward is to set up a simple management plan and code of forestry practice. Included in this must be plots that are currently being stripped bare with no succession plan and profits must be reinvested in the forests of the future so there is no risk of deforestation.
He also thinks the demand for bio-fuel will slow down. At the moment the three power plants consume 30 000 tonnes of wood and don't have much potential for increasing that. In addition any increase won't be at the sort of rate the foresters have experienced in the recent past. The market took off very rapidly but it's a recent phenomenon of only 5 years. The evolution will be slower.
Source: La Nouvelle République article.
I should point out that all the photos here were taken by us in the Forest of Preuilly, which is mostly managed by the very professional Office for National Forests and none of the issues discussed above apply. Also probably none of the wood shown above will be destined for wood chip, it will be to supply private households with wood burning stoves. There are private parcels in the forest though and I can't vouch for the management approach to all of them.