Financial Analysis of Restoring Sustainable Forests on Appalachian Mined Lands for Wood Products, Renewable Energy, Carbon Sequestration, and Other Ecosystem Services
Public Law 95-87, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), mandates that mined land be reclaimed in a fashion that renders the land at least as productive after mining as it was before mining. In the central Appalachian region, where prime farmland and economic development opportunities for mined land are scarce, the most practical land use choices are hayland/pasture, wildlife habitat, or forest land. Since 1977, the majority of mined land has been reclaimed as hayland/pasture or wildlife habitat, which is less expensive to reclaim than forest land, since there are no tree planting costs. As a result, there are now hundreds of thousands of hectares of grasslands and scrublands in various stages of natural succession located throughout otherwise forested mountains in the U.S. The purpose of this study is to develop a framework for understanding/calculating the economic implications of converting these reclaimed mined lands to forests under various silvicultural regimes, and to demonstrate the economic/decision-making implications of an incentive scheme on such a land use conversion. The economic feasibility of a range of land-use conversion scenarios was analyzed for both mixed hardwoods and white pine, under a set of low product prices and under a set of high product prices. Economic feasibility was based on land expectation values. Further, three types of incentive schemes were investigated: 1) lump sum payment at planting (and equivalent series of annual payments), 2) revenue incentive at harvest and 3) payment based on carbon volume.
Mixed hardwood LEVs ranged from -$2416.71/ha (low prices) to $3955.72/ha (high prices). White pine LEVs ranged from -$2330.43/ha (low prices) to $3746.65/ha (high prices). A greater percentage of white pine scenarios yielded economically feasible land-use conversions than did the mixed hardwood scenarios, and it seems that a conversion to white pine forests would, for the most part, be the more appealing option. It seems that, for both mixed hardwoods and white pine, it would be in the best interests of the landowner to invest in the highest quality sites first. For a conversion to mixed hardwood forests, a low intensity level of site preparation seems economically optimal for most scenarios. For a conversion to white pine forests, a medium intensity level of site preparation seems economically optimal for most scenarios.
Mixed hardwoods lump sum payments, made at the time of planting, ranged from $0/ha to $2416.71/ha (low prices). White pine lump sum payments, made at the time of planting, ranged from $0/ha to $2330.53/ha (low prices). Mixed hardwoods benefits based on an increase in revenue at harvest, ranged from $0/ha to $784449.52/ha (low prices). White pine benefits based on an increase in revenue at harvest ranged from $0/ha to $7011.48/ha (high prices). Annual mixed hardwood benefits, based on total stand carbon volume present at the end of a given year, ranged from $0/ton of carbon to $5.26/ton carbon (low prices). White pine benefits based on carbon volume ranged from $0/ton of carbon to $18.61/ton of carbon (high prices). It appears that, for white pine scenarios, there is not much difference between incentive values for lump sum payments at planting, revenue incentives at harvest, and total carbon payments over a rotation. For mixed hardwoods, however, it appears that the carbon payment incentive is by far the cheapest option of encouraging landowners to convert land.