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TimberWest November/December 2013

January/February 2016

ON THE COVER
Photo taken at the 2015 Oregon Logging
Conference

Download the OLC Showguide

Running Big, Running Strong
Jerry DeBriae, owner and founder of Jerry DeBriae Logging Inc. of Cathlamet, Washington, has over five decades of experience tackling just about every challenge a logging contractor will face.

A Road Well Travelled
R D Reeves Construction finds the solutions to stay diversified and local.

Woody Biomass
Stripping fact from fiction

All Hands on Deck
Miller Timber Services and Wildland Firefighting Crews

Tire Evaluation Test

China Amping up Imports
China aims to increase the volume of timber imports from the U.S. despite stagnant economy.

Foresters Face Paradigm Shift 
for Logging Steep Slopes

Technology from New Zealand is set to create a whole new — and safer — way of logging

Gradual Growth for North American Sawmill
Vancouver Urban Timberworks started out modestly and grew into their new Wood-Mizer WM1000

DEPARTMENTS

In the News

Association News

Machinery Row

New Products

Guest Column

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Woody Biomass

Woody Biomass - Stripping Fact from Fiction

By Barbara Coyner

In this fever-pitched political season, watching one campaign spout off inaccuracies about a topic, daring another candidate to respond, is sometimes like watching a one-sided mud wrestling match. One side flings the mud, and the other side just ducks and runs for cover. The worst of it is the stated inaccuracies often stay out there, unchallenged, masquerading as fact.

In the world of woody biomass energy, this is often the case. People grab the microphone, act official, and pass off as fact things that are often just activist sound bites. Happily, however, there’s a new presence on the scene, waiting to take on the activists conspiring to defeat woody biomass power as a viable green energy solution. Introducing Biomass101, found on the web at www.biomass101.org.

Here’s a sample of the group’s opening salvo:

We’ve started Biomass101 because we can’t sit idly by and watch the debate distorted by activists who, while they may have good intentions, are misguided and misinformed. That’s a part of responsible stewardship too—making sure people know the truth about the hands-on work we are doing each day. So we intend to monitor the coverage closely and hold the press accountable when they get it wrong. As the leading coalition of people who care for and depend upon our forests, we offer a unique, first-hand perspective on these issues. And so we have a responsibility to add our voice to this conversation. Balanced coverage ought to mean scrutiny on the assumptions and motives of biomass critics too. If they are pushing unrealistic, impractical, and harmful policies, then the press ought to be pointing that out.

Biomass101 was developed by a coalition of forest owners, pulp and paper manufacturers, professional foresters, and others involved in the real world of forestry. Anticipating the argument that such groups have a vested interest in spinning the woody biomass story one way, one can’t help but reply, “Well, duh.”

Yes, these people do have a vested interest, but lest we assume this is all a deceitful plan to cut or sell more timber, it’s worth remembering that the timber industry is also interested in sustainability and stewardship. By contrast, those in the organic food movement seldom get questioned as growers hire their own certification teams to gain organic certification. There are very few accusations of complicity there, nor maybe should there be if all people involved are professional at what they do. Thus, it might be okay to assume that Biomass101 and its sponsoring groups can actually provide real facts. They can also distribute rebuttals to some of the wild accusations posing as facts.

Here’s a brief example of the spunk writers use in Biomass101 to debunk some of the propaganda peddled by Climate Central, an activist group routinely challenging woody biomass as “not green.” This excerpt takes on the myth that woody biomass spews out more pollutants than coal:

The report falls for the unscientific and shortsighted claim that biomass puts more carbon into the atmosphere than fossil fuels like coal. That’s just not true. And if you don’t want to take a hundred forest scientists’ word for it, use your common sense: When you mine a pound of coal, can you plant a coal seed to replace it? Or grow a coal tree that pulls in CO2 from the atmosphere?

As anyone who has passed Biology 101 can attest, woody biomass represents a unique case in which there are carbon trade-offs when more trees are planted to offset the utilization of the wood in making energy. Here’s another witty comeback to Climate Central’s packaged biases against woody biomass energy:

Climate Central’s report puts “renewable” in scare quotes when discussing forest biomass. But their mockery meters may be malfunctioning. The strong markets for forest products stimulate forestland ownership and incentivize planting trees—one of the most recyclable, reusable, and renewable materials on the planet, not to mention the greatest natural carbon capture technology that exists.

Of course Climate Central and its website can draw readers into the whole subject of climate change, provoking arguments pro and con over whether humans cause climate change. The issue of climate change is touchy and very politically charged, not a subject to wade into lightly. What is known by the timber industry, however, is just how often the industry is bludgeoned by scientific facts that later undergo a quiet shift. The whole spotted owl controversy comes to mind, and the controversial science there nearly killed off an entire industry in the West. Perhaps lessons learned from the spotted owl era are now spawning new talk-back sites like Biomass101.

With colleges and universities, think tanks, and federal agencies all putting woody biomass energy under the microscope, it would seem there are actual facts out there that should be brought to light. In the world of newspapers and journalism, however, it’s sometimes not convenient to find a full range of experts to interview when you’re faced with a tight deadline. Actual reporters might often rely on finding some of their sources at the food co-op or tavern, not out in the woods with a logging contractor or mill worker. Reporters are people too and will sometimes congregate with others in the same social circle, because it’s not always appealing to go outside one’s comfort zone.

Readers of this column are encouraged to get familiar with the content on the Biomass101 website and read it critically with the BS meter always turned on. Having well-reasoned defense of woody biomass ultimately requires discernment no matter who writes the column or website. But some of us sincerely applaud the Biomass101 creators for taking on sound bites that have passed for truth far too many times.