Forest Health

Wood Bioenergy's Role

Forest health issues in the U.S. West, especially on public lands, are critical not only for local communities that depend on them to develop resource- and tourist-based industries surrounding them, but also for the nation as a whole. And wood bioenergy has a great potential to serve as a major tool in alleviating forest health conditions brought on by drought, pest and disease infestations and poor management practices in the past. Recent travels by WB staff included visits to Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and California (including Roseburg’s Weed, Calif. CHP plant featured in this issue), that provided an up-close look at conditions on the ground and the issues and challenges facing forest products and wood bioenergy operators in those regions.

As wildfires raged across the U.S. West during August, threatening property and lives in urban-forest interfaces while destroying some of the most beautiful landscapes America has to offer in remote wildlands, the critical role of woody biomass utilization in addressing forest health issues in the region remains crystal clear.

The Roseburg facility in this issue is a good example: The project enables the company to use electricity and steam from the biomass plant to fully power every energy need at the veneer mill (except for those pesky propane lift trucks) and sell excess, sustainable energy to Pacific Power. The plant also provides a key market for biomass produced from the company’s northern California timberlands as well as material coming off public and private lands in the area that are in need of thinning and understory removal.

Biomass Resource Image 001
From Left: David (DK) Knight, Co-Publisher/Executive Editor; David Abbott, Senior Associate Editor; Dan Shell, Western Editor; Jessica Johnson, Associate Editor; Rich Donnell, Editor-in-Chief

While Roseburg’s CHP project has met with success, serious challenges remain, as a report released by the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities earlier this year showed. Meanwhile, in Arizona, while a 150,000 acre forest health project begun in 2004 has been successful in developing wood bioenergy utilization while treating more than 60,000 acres so far, a much larger 300,000 forest health project—of which bioenergy was only a small component—has stalled for lack of financing.

The key to wood bioenergy development in regions heavily reliant on public land resources is a consistent supply of raw materials that make cogen, CHP and pellet/briquette operations profitable. This requires assurance on the part of land managers that the individual forest thinning and understory removal projects encompassing larger forest health programs do indeed go forward.

Affecting primarily small and rural communities in remote areas, forest health issues are tailor-made for local solutions involving small or region-scale businesses collaborating to develop and maximize economic efficiency. Market-based incentives and financial policy aiding wood bioenergy projects that enable forest restoration management are also key.

Wood bioenergy is a huge factor in ongoing forest health issues on Western public lands. Here’s to hoping it’s harnessed effectively and utilized in a sustainable manner instead of going up in smoke in major wildfires making national news.