Biomass taken from Groningen’s green spaces is a disaster for our urban forest

Biomass and third party green maintenance contracts are a disaster for Groningen’s urban forests!

In the province, green maintenance is no longer directly managed by full-time gardners and tree specialists within local municipalities, but often by individual businesses via contracts with third parties (contracters). These third party contracters now manage local trees through short-term tree maintainance assignments. On top of this, these contracters act as mediators between the Staatsbosbeheer (state forestry service) and the various municipalities.  The Staatsbosbeheer is responsible for maintaining many small parks and green areas within the province of Groningen, which fall outside the juristiction of individual municipalities, while individual municipalities are responsible for street trees. In the last three years, the Staatsbosbeheer has been given the responsibility of collecting all of the municipalitie’s tree refuse to be sold as biomass as ‘green’ energy in Groningen, such as for the wood ovens heating the swimging pool at Kardinge.

Since 2012, this has had many negative consequences for our urban forests, such as the more drastic pruning of tree canopies rather than more conservative and careful pruning of only dead or dying branches. Also, the number of trees cut has increased to limit the costs of maintaining trees, while also providing more burnable wood as biomass in the short-term. This has meant that especially larger, mature trees are cut more quickly because of expected increased maintenance costs and motivated by the short-term economic gain of selling this wood as biomass. Much of the time these felled trees are not replaced or compensated. Finally, because the municipality is now pushing for greater use of ‘sustainable’ and green-energy through the burning of biomass, in 2012 the municipality outlined its new policy to begin acquiring all of the biomass from the city’s contracted green/tree workers. These individual contracters have been given the task of collecting all of the citie’s tree refuse from the Staatsbosbeheer. About 4400 TONS OF WOOD is collected each year and the municipality wants to double this amount by 2020.

The municipality estimates (and actively plans for) ca. 500 cut trees per year (400 tons). They expect and hope that this number wil increase to 2000-6000 trees cut per year for biomass. In a city of ca. 180,000 trees wherein a relatively small percentage are replaced or compensated -if no trees are replaced – in 90 years we will have no trees  (at a rate o f 2000 trees cut for biomass a year):

What we now see from such a policy is that both the contracters and the short-term, third party tree workers (often with backgrounds in construction work), have less training in long-term tree health/sustainability, biodiversity, and urban forests, not to mention that they know little of how trees sequester green house gases or mitigate climate change. Within this new economic model, individual tree workers are no longer paid yearly salaires but renumerated by individual projects and through the amount of the wood they harvest (euros per tons). Because of this, third party contracters are actually motivated to collect MORE wood and branches from trees to sell back to the municipality as biomass. In other words, caring for our trees and green spaces is no longer a priority of long-term, educated tree specialists, but the task of economically motivated contracters who hire workers forced to earn a living not from careful, long-term tree care, but by the amount of wood that they harvest from our urban forest. This is a disastrous policy which is already easily visible in our streets, parks and highways where more and more relativley healthy trees are cut and tree crowns have been raised to absolutely unreasonable and unhealthy heights – making our trees dangerous for trunk rot, creating trees that are increasingly bird free and finally trees that appear mangled and unsightly trees for residents. Here is the letter from 2012 which outlines this new, dangerous policy.

Read the policy here: benutting biomassa stromen raad Groningen 2012 februari