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Exploring Feasibility

AHB researchers interviewed local stakeholders to learn if they thought a poplar-based bioindustry made sense in their communities. Would people grow enough poplar, if there was a market for it? Could poplar help local wastewater treatment plants or fit into flood mitigation efforts?

Stakeholders discussed the challenges facing local agriculture and the need for a new economic opportunity that “pencils out”. Given a convincing business model, they saw chances for win-win situations with landowners profiting from poplar on otherwise low-value acreage and achieving ecosystem services for wastewater or floodplain management. However, they also raised a number of questions and concerns that would need to be addressed before a poplar bioindustry could move forward.


An ariel view of the Jefferson Poplar Plantation in Oregon.


  • Supports local agriculture
    • New market opportunity for the struggling ag community
    • Faster turnaround (3-year cycles) than other tree crops
    • Lower manual labor requirements than annual crops
    • Can grow on wet, marginal land
    • Comparatively little soil disturbance
  • Economic development from a biorefinery
  • Innovative flood mitigation strategy
    • Providing a more flood-tolerant crop
    • Deliberately slowing floodwater
    • Intercepting non-point source pollution
  • Utilize recycled wastewater and biosolids
    • Alternative to direct discharging into local waterways
    • Extracts additional nitrogen and contaminants
    • Saves money on biosolid transportation cost
  • Produce renewable chemicals and biofuels

Side, close-up view of the yellow harvester mowing down and chipping a coppiced poplar tree.

Challenges and Concerns

  • Will the industry “pencil out”
  • Potential for wildlife damage (e.g., elk, beaver)
  • Need specialized harvesting equipment
    • And equipment cannot operate on saturated ground
  • Significant upfront investment
  • Questions about local impacts of a biorefinery
  • Complications with existing landuse
    • Clogging drainage tile lines
    • Uncertainty about impacts to irrigation rights
    • Need some hayland/pasture to support livestock and horses
  • Further research needed:
    • Unknown feasibility of using coppiced poplar for wastewater treatment
    • Uncertainty about biomass production in wet, marginal growing conditions
    • Concerns about non-native poplar impacting native populations


For details, see: Hart, Noelle M., Patricia A. Townsend, Amira Chowyuk, and Rick Gustafson. 2018. Stakeholder Assessment of the Feasibility of Poplar as a Biomass Feedstock and Ecosystem Services Provider in Southwestern Washington, USA. Forests 9(10): 655.