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Bioenergy and U.S. Wildfire Mitigation Strategy

By Kolby Hoagland | April 11, 2014

Earlier this week the U.S. federal government released The National Strategy: The Final Phase in the Development of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. In it, the federal government lays out a rough framework to unite local, state, and federal efforts that mitigate the negative repercussions from wildfires in forests and rangelands. The report discusses three primary areas where action should be focused to abate the loss of natural resources, property, and life. Agencies should aim to restore and maintain landscapes, held communities to adapt to fire, and create effective wildfire response strategies.  With a significant drought bearing down the western U.S.,  this fire season is stacking up to be a bad one, and action is desperately needed.

Other than proscribed burns, which send potential feedstock and massive amounts of particulate matter into the air, the report identifies thinning and clearing as a viable option to minimize the threat of fire. Thinning operations are often costly and deliver lower grade timber that cannot be used for directional lumber. Forest thinning, however, is an excellent feedstock for bioenergy installation and other forest product manufacturing that can utilize smaller diameter trees. The map below shows where active management by non-proscribed fire would be beneficial along with the relative strength of the forest products market in the specific region. The blue areas on the map distinguish areas where the forests need thinning to mitigate fire and the forest products market is relatively weak.

Fire Treatment Areas

Bioenergy developers might look to the weak forest products market areas for available feedstock and site locations where bioenergy instillations would be advantageous for the surrounding community. To reduce fuel loading in forests and maximize the economic opportunity in these areas, we hope that appropriate supports and incentives are built into the federal government’s ultimate strategy to lessen the threat that wildfires bring to forest communities.

A considerable burden in carrying out forest mitigation strategies is the cost of the action that is proscribed, whether thinning and removal or proscribed burn. By including bioenergy development supports and incentives into fire mitigation strategies, a portion or the entirety of the cost to carry out the thinning could be recouped by selling the forest biomass to bioenergy installation. Along with recoved cost, the biomass would be transformed into an energy product through technologies that incorporate air emissions controls, making the bioenegy option far superior to proscribed burns in regards to air emissions. Bioenergy has a strong role to play in wildfire management, but the federal government needs to state that, which it doesn’t, not even once, in the National Strategy report. 

 

2 Responses

  1. kris

    2014-04-13

    1

    ok this article is biased. We need to look at how to prevent fires right? So why do we bild an actual partial fire irrigation system that protects the highest concentrations of forest and use remote fire crews and planes for urban areas with thinned trees or close to none. This cuts response time, kills fires, and saves property and people. It does cut kobs from the forest department and saves millions of dollars on "fighting" fire///?! duh... So we fight fires with preventative measures. they try.. Thus a mechanical system that uses natural rain fall, some trucked in, in various spots. oh and you like this idea, when the forest department wants to cut down on fire hazard. Turn on some of those remote systems and water the forest floor.. We need to think outside the box. Not box a bunch of areas on a map and say its insufficient. These areas on the map are natural desert areas too?? what are we doing? wake up..

  2. Kolby Hoagland

    2014-04-14

    2

    Thank you for reading my blog and your comment, Kris. Watering the forest is an "outside of the box" idea, but I believe cost and logistics of pumping water from over allocated rivers in the west (such as the Colorado) prevents any policy maker to pursue this path. Furthermore the enormity of your idea is nearly unfathomable. On the Columbia river, 671,000 acres of desert are irrigated for a cost in the billions of dollars. To achieve 671k acres of irrigated land it has taken 70 year, hundred of millions of tons of concrete, and acts of congresss. In comparison, in one year (2012) 9 million acres of forest burned, and this only represents a fraction of the forests where the threat of fire is high and would need to be watered. Furthermore and most importantly, overgrown forests are the problem. The past 100 years of fire prevention in western forests has led to overgrown forests, or forest with high fuel loads (using forestry talk). Watering the forest would simply cause greater fuel loading and eventually, when the water runs dry, lead to a more prone tinderbox than currently exists. On the other hand, thinning the tinderbox is a viable option, particularly in areas where human interests are in danger from fire. Bioenergy development simply creates a market for the thinnings which will generate revenue for forest restoration processes. The current fire mitigation thinning process piles the thinnings and restoration residue into piles (slash piles) in the forest and burn them during winter months. This practice simply sends a plentiful renewable resource up in high-particulate-matter-smoke with zero revenue. I do appreciate your thoughts and out of the box idea. Albert Einstein said something to the ends of "The type of thinking that created a problem won't be the type of thinking that solves it."

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