Did you know that forests can provide economic, social, and environmental benefits?
Updated: May 23, 2022
Meet Alberto Goetzl, President and Founder of Seneca Creek Associates
From management of a woodlot on his family’s horse farm to authoring a pivotal study on illegal logging, New York native Alberto Goetzl has his ears to the forest floor and gets the bigger picture of the forestry products industry in Maryland and beyond.
The forest first appeared on his radar in the early ‘70s when he was visiting his brother who was serving in the military and stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. He remembers seeing some massive clearcuts on nearby mountains and thinking “that doesn’t look right. I need to do something about that.” With this woodland steward mission in mind, Goetzl went off to Bates College in Maine. Growing up in the city, he says he “couldn’t wait to leave the city and get out into the rural areas,” and Maine was a perfect fit. After his undergraduate studies, and a few years working as a social worker, he pursued a Masters in Forestry at the Duke University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, now the Nicholas School of the Environment.
His time in forestry school gave him a clearer perspective and deeper understanding of forest management. He learned that the harvesting of trees allows for natural regeneration and renewal of a forest stand and results in a healthy forest in many cases. Goetzl points out that the “practice of forestry has evolved and as land managers we are more sensitive to the different values that the forest provides, not just the timber.”
Goetzl’s entry to the forestry world began with an early stint as a research forester and economist with the U.S. Forest Service, going from Louisiana to New Hampshire and Maine. From there, it was on to D.C. where he eventually served as a vice president of the National Forest Products Association (NFPA). The NFPA represented the forestry products industry in national affairs and the connection from forest to market was established for Goetzl.
After 12 years at NFPA, he founded Seneca Creek Associates LLC, a consultancy that provides services in natural resource economics and international trade. Goetzl served as an international trade analyst with the U.S. International Trade Commission from 2009-2014 where he worked on international trade disputes and other trade-related matters. That experience underscored the importance of fair trade and international markets for U.S. producers of wood and other products.
During his time as president and founder of Seneca Creek Associates, he has written on everything from sustainable forest practices to illegal logging and how it affects our nation’s logging industry and its ability to compete.
A major study that Goetzl led in the early 2000s had significant legislative impact, leading to amendments to the Lacey Act in 2008. The Lacey Act was amended to prohibit trade in a wider variety of prohibited plants and plant products, including products made from illegally logged wood. As he puts it, the law really “clamped down on importing wood material from suspicious sources, to say the least.” It is this legislation today that prevents the import of wood sourced from illegally harvested trees.
Goetzl and his consultancy are typically serving forest products companies, timber investors, landowners, trade associations and government agencies for “mission-critical projects.” They offer analysis of regulatory impact, natural resources policy and economics services, strategic planning, and international trade and development assistance. Goetzl has traveled extensively in Asia and Europe on behalf of the hardwood industry, working to develop programs to promote U.S. wood product exports. He pioneered a risk assessment on U.S. hardwoods that is cited in procurement programs all over the world. His consultancy also assists other industries, such as the U.S. aluminum industry, in maintaining a level playing field for global trade.
In today’s forestry products and timber market, he sees “a lot of opportunities in the export markets for wood and paper products.” Goetzl has watched hardwood lumber exports go from almost nothing in the late ‘80s to being one of the major U.S. forest product exports going to Europe and China. Hardwood logs and lumber are two products of the forest crossing seas to available markets, with softwood opportunities also available globally, according to the Seneca Creek Associates president.
Goetzl points to the fact that exporting finished lumber serves our overall economy better with more processing done here which means more jobs and income staying locally.
From his woodlot view, another potential market boon waiting in the woodlands is woody biomass. Goetzl cites the possible forest landowner benefits and the need to phase out Maryland’s coal-fired electric plants and replace with the essentially carbon neutral practice of wood burning. He emphasizes the regenerative, sustainable nature of this energy feedstock, with new, young forest stands growing and storing carbon, outpacing or at least neutralizing the emissions of burning woody biomass.
Goetzl uses the example of Europe as woody biomass industry pioneers, where the U.K. has converted power plants that are now run by wood pellets shipped from the U.S. Maryland has definite wood energy potential, he says. “I would love to see 2 or 3 wood biomass thermal projects in the state. People could see how both economical and beneficial it is in so many different ways, whether environmentally or commercially, and it will help forest landowners,” Goetzl emphasizes. A biomass energy market could take low-market value wood and generate income that could be reinvested into management of a woodlot. He sees this as the perfect answer for central MD in establishing a forestry products industry where there is not much active timber work.
Outside of Seneca Creek Associates, Goetzl is past chairman of the Maryland Sustainable Forestry Council, whose role he sees as vitally important and “instrumental in focusing attention here in MD on sustainable forestry practices.” “Maryland is currently the only state that has adopted a legislative no-net forest loss goal for the state, which is really quite an accomplishment,” Goetzl adds. Considering the development pressures in Maryland and the lack of care he’s seen in other parts of the world when it comes to sustainable forestry products, he emphasizes the importance of the state’s no net loss legislation.
Having the unique perspective of a forest economist, Goetzl knows sustainable forest management and conservation involves harvesting, which feeds the industry, provides incentive to manage forests and climate benefits. “When you learn about forest ecology, you realize that it’s a dynamic system. When you cut trees and new trees grow, that is actually a big benefit. Carbon being stored for a very long time in a forestry product, while at the same time new growth is storing more carbon as it is coming up from the forest,” he says, all while maintaining habitat for wildlife and other forest amenities.
Managing woodlands for these sort of benefits is something near and dear to Goetzl’s heart as co-owner of Dream Catcher Farm LLC, his family’s working horse farm and managed woodlot in Frederick County. This Adamstown refuge, nestled by the forested land of Sugarloaf Mountain, is his true pride and passion. Thirty or so years ago, his wife decided she wanted to pursue her passion with horses full time. Goetzl was completely on board with one caveat: the farm had to have a woodlot to practice his profession on his own land. “There’s nothing like mucking stalls and farm work to keep you centered,” he says.
Over 20-plus years, he has planted trees on a number of acres on the farm that were pasture but sensitive hydrologically to help restore the land and fostered natural regeneration where possible too. Despite an earlier history of poor past management and high grading on the property— harvesting of the largest, most valuable trees — Goetzl has worked hard to selectively cut and encourage regeneration, resulting in “what’s now a pretty good-looking woodlot,” he says.
There always new challenges, like the emerald ash borer that wiped out his ash planted as part of a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) project. However, planting wisely and mixing a variety of species, as Goetzl did, helped that CRP-funded forest stand stay resilient and overcome the mortality due to the ash borer. He would like to see more research done on employing genetic interventions to deal with forest pests. “The biggest innovations in forestry going forward will likely be at the smallest level, the genetic and microscopic landscapes. Overcoming some forest health issues will likely require innovation at the genetic level. Gene drives and technologies such as CRISPR have yet to be applied to control invasive pests or help with forest restoration. That’s coming,” he adds.
Whether on his woodlot or in world travels, Al Goetzl has seen the forest in all its forms and all regions. “The role a productive forest plays in the ecology of an area and in Maryland is undisputed,” he says. It’s this role that Goetzl hopes going forward more people understand. “More people need to appreciate the full economic, social and environmental contribution of our forests, and not just part of the story,” Goetzl says.
Photo Credit: EDWIN REMSBERG PHOTOGRAPHS
Project Support: RURAL MARYLAND COUNCIL
LINKS TO LEARN MORE:
Seneca Creek Associates-
Sustainable Forestry Council-
Future Potential for Woody Biomass Energy in Maryland
Maryland's Forests- Great for the Environment and the Economy-