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TimberWest November/December 2013

Sept/October 2014

ON THE COVER
Photo by Diane Mettler: Brintech Logging and the company’s two new machines — a Doosan and Hyundai

Keep on Thinning
Pleines Logging has focused on
thinning for two decades

Good Crew Makes the Company
RDL Northwest Inc. is picky
about its crew and equipment

Running on All Cylinders
While companies were struggling
through the recession Brintech
expanded

Woody Biomass Column
Be Ready with the Message

16 Seconds: The Divider
Winners and losers of the LWC

ScorpionKing Struts
Ponsse shows of the new
ScorpionKing in Rhinelander, Wisc.

Guest Columnist
Preparing Your Forestry Equipment for Winter

DEPARTMENTS

Tech review - Brushcutters & Mulchers

In the News

Association News

Machinery Row

 

 

 

 CLICK to download a pdf of this article

Woody Biomass

Be Ready with the Message

By Barbara Coyner

The Idaho Forest Products Commission has a woody biomass message worth memorizing— it’s called The Triple Win:

• Restore forest health, fire resiliency, and wildlife habitat.

• Help meet Idaho’s [or another state’s] energy needs with a renewable resource.

• Provide hundreds of jobs and revitalize rural communities.

Make no mistake about it, while the forestry industry sees common sense in turning woody biomass into renewable energy, there’s plenty of pushback to the Triple Win, especially when it comes to allowing harvest activities on national forest lands in the West. Furthermore, there is an established army of opposition to woody biomass power in general, and some of that opposition gets fairly emotional. If you don’t believe it, check out two samples at: www.thingsworsethannuclearpower.com or www.energyjustice.net. By contrast, Idaho Forest Products Commission’s one-page summary on woody biomass (www.idahoforests.org/img/pdf/Biomass.pdf) is worth keeping on hand for reference.

Push Against Biomass

Despite the obvious, that western forests are overcrowded and giant wildfires contribute to poor air quality, as well as loss of resources and wildlife habitat, many activists still fight woody biomass power. This is especially true when it comes to logging federal forests for forest health improvements. The familiar argument is that loggers will take out the big trees to gain better monetary returns. The reality is that loggers are often logging small diameter wood and leaving limbs and branches behind as slash when such waste could instead be chipped into biomass.

Again this year, payouts for wildfire suppression vastly outweigh funding dedicated to thinning, chipping, and other related forest health restoration procedures. It’s a foolish way to care for nature’s gifts and a complete waste of resources.

Places to Spread a Positive Message

Getting beyond the opposition, the positive message of woody biomass power should be on instant recall by all who work in the forest industry. First, we can’t assume that we are preaching to the choir anymore when the choir no longer knows the songs. Kids of logging families and millworkers seem to know less and less about forestry and logging these days, even when they grow up in traditional timber communities. And today’s timber towns have often given up and are now preparing the next generation for a technology, sometimes even as logging and mill jobs go begging.

Meanwhile, a new culture is moving into rural America. Urbanites are fleeing long commutes and urban decay in favor of fresh air, pastoral settings, and the “simpler life.” Retirees are bailing out on smoggy cities and traffic to breathe the fresh clean air of country life. While it might be easy to resent the newcomers, it is far more practical to welcome the chance to educate them. In my community, for example, the rural roads are filling up with new homes and transplants from the city. Many want to own forested ground, and in time, some of these people will want to know more about forest management.

Logging contractors already know some of the new residents and might even be cutting a little timber for them. Sometimes loggers now include a mastication head or chipper in their toolbox, possibly because they have had people request an alternative to burning slash piles. Several newcomers are seeing forestry with new eyes, and as they stay around, they pick favorite loggers because of how those loggers treat their woods.

If landowners want to avoid burning slash and have wood residuals chipped, the logger needs to know more about the tools for chipping – and the markets that will buy those chips. This is another chance to make a case for woody biomass power and for the logging industry in general. Sure, chips are a low-value commodity, but as woody biomass power takes hold in certain areas, there is actually competition for the chips. Ask power plant managers, and they will tell you that sourcing chips and hog fuel to keep woody biomass power generation plants operating is a constant challenge.

Looking Past the Smokestack

As for people still living in cities, it’s simply much harder to make the case for woody biomass power because lots of city people automatically envision smokestacks and dirty air as the scenario. Yet there is progress.

In Idaho’s Latah County, the sanitation department recently started chipping tree trimmings, clean construction debris, and other wood wastes that clog the landfill. Adjacent Whitman County in Washington has already been chipping urban wood waste (see the May/June 2014 Woody Biomass column in TimberWest). Such urban developments in handling trash make it much easier to initiate a common sense discussion on woody biomass power as practical renewable energy.

Woody Biomass on the Rise

Statistically, woody biomass power is growing as an energy source. That is the good news. Biomass Magazine reported in the August online edition that during the first six months of 2014, wood and wood-derived fuels generated 20.71 megawatt hours of electricity, up 8.6 percent compared to the same time period last year. Biomass capacity grew somewhat in the Mountain Region, reaching 189.9 megawatts in June, up from 159.9 megawatts recorded the previous June. Other western areas also grew slightly during the same time span. And such programs as Fuels for Schools are bringing the woody biomass power concept right into the classrooms of many of our young people, with parents now being more aware of biomass as renewable energy.

The old timber wars of the 90s and the spotted owl fiascos rearranged much in the western timber industry, and now whole states lack both loggers and mills. The starry-eyed city people are moving to the country and might not like the high-pitched whine of the chainsaw. Yet the influx of urban refugees presents a perfect chance to show the timber profession in a positive light. Once people see that slash piles can instead heat local schools and add to the power grid, opinions will change. Loggers need to have the sensible message of woody biomass power ready to present!