[OPINION] Massachusetts: The Hoax of Biomass and Modern Forestry

[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Massachusetts: A Clear Path Forward for Biomass Energy,” by Evan Dell’Olio, Director, External and Regulatory Affairs, Roberts Energy Renewables] 

– by RG Cachat, Biochemist and Ecologist

The Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] is partnering with private landowners to create National pseudo-Forests, which are fronted as “conservation” while failing all tests of real-world conservation.

Forests owned by the State are being logged at drastic, nearly clear-cut levels and at unsustainable rates. The character of forests is being forced toward monocultures of pine and hemlock by suppressing succession to hardwoods. They are treated as plantations and their productivity is tracked, while vulnerable species studies are lacking. The State has seen the end of more than a dozen species in recent years with no change to tactics.

While billing the wholesale commercializing of public lands for resource extraction as “forest management” and “sustainable,” the state is creating habitats that suit only a small group of megafauna. The State is causing biodiversity crashes while touting biodiversity. Invasive plants are introduced and spread by creation of extremely disrupted habitats and logging roads. All species that are sensitive to repeated habitat change at extreme levels are threatened by state-sponsored pseudo-science.

Biomass is an appealing “easy out” for wasteful energy policies and land barons hungry for quick cash. This sweetheart deal for big landholders is sold as “carbon neutral,” when the facts show this to be a carbon hoax. Taxpayers are lured in by promises of cheap energy and reduced taxes on the myth that this practice is sustainable, or healthy for forests, people or the climate.

The biomass part is its own demon. Burning wood, sawdust, or wood products produces a host of toxic organic compounds, as well as acid precursors that become acid rain in quick turn. These byproducts are unavoidable when burning any wood-based material. Biomass toxic emissions include formaldehyde, benzene and dioxins, which are all powerful carcinogens. Beyond chemical pollution, biomass emissions release huge volumes of PM2.5 pollution. This term refers to fine particles under a certain size that have been linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases.

One kilogram (2.2lbs.) of burned wood produces ~130 grams of carbon monoxide, 51 grams of hydrocarbons (including up to 10 g of carcinogenic benzene), 21 grams of fine particulates (PM2.5), ~ 0.3 grams highly-carcinogenic polycyclic organic hydrocarbons, and 10 – 167 mg of highly-carcinogenic dioxins. Wood burning is responsible for about 3 percent of total suspended particulates, 6 percent of total carbon monoxide and 51 percent of highly-carcinogenic polycyclic organic matter produced by all US sources. A Chinese study found that Beijing’s famous smog is made deadly by fine particulates as much as it is by noxious gases.

Worse yet, biomass burning adds to global climate instability just when we need to fix this problem, but puts off “paying back” the C02 bank for generations to come. That means that emissions from biomass will hang around for several decades, at minimum, before we can even get back to where we are today.

For example, if you cut 25 acres of 40-70 year-old forest, it takes that long just for the forest to get back to its beginning carbon-fixing rate. Until then, it’s doing only part of its original work. To compensate for this 25 acres today, you have to commit 75 acres of newly-regrowing forest to cover the carbon fixing of the lost former forest. That new 75 acres will still take at least 125 years to recover the greenhouse gases from biomass burning of the original 25-acre lot.

Worse yet, the soil microbes don’t recover for as much as 100 years, and soil microbes lock up as much or more greenhouse gases as the forest trees do. That’s right, half or more of the carbon is in the ground, locked up by bacteria and fungi, which die when the forest is cut and exhale massive volumes of greenhouse gases. So, each time you cut a forest, you get a double dose of carbon load into the atmosphere, with all the other pollutants mentioned.

Cutting today for biomass equals condemning our children to several generations of degrading climate while they pay back our debt. Are we that poor?

RG Cachat-Schilling is a biochemist and ecologist who worked in native plant conservation, ethnobotany and science publishing. He is currently an editor in translation for bioscience, materials science and statistics, and co-author in two published studies on soil microbe ecology and gas exchange for the Dept. of Public Safety and Health of the State of Bavaria, Germany.

3 comments

  • Mr. Cachat discusses forestry on state land and biomass burning. I’ll skip commenting on the biomass burning but as for forestry on state land, Mr. Cachat has some major errors.

    He says, “Forests owned by the State are being logged at drastic, nearly clear-cut levels and at unsustainable rates.” Actually, what is cut is far less than growth.

    He says, “The character of forests is being forced toward monocultures of pine and hemlock by suppressing succession to hardwoods.” I have been observing forestry work on state land for several decades and I can attest that this statement is false. Mr. Cachat should give evidence to back up what he says.

    He says, “They are treated as plantations and their productivity is tracked, while vulnerable species studies are lacking. The State has seen the end of more than a dozen species in recent years with no change to tactics.” In reality, the state has been reducing plantations planted several decades ago in order to increase species diversity. The loss of tree species in this state has nothing to do with forestry work on state land. The loss is due to diseases and pests entering the state.

    He says, “While billing the wholesale commercializing of public lands for resource extraction as ‘forest management’ and ‘sustainable,’ the state is creating habitats that suit only a small group of megafauna. The State is causing biodiversity crashes while touting biodiversity.” Again, where is the evidence for this? Saying it doesn’t make it true.

    Just making up stuff is fine for religion and metaphysical discussions, but it doesn’t work when discussing the reality of forests. The management of state forest land hasn’t been ideal in my opinion and I have been one of its biggest critics but the critique of forestry by Mr. Cachat has it all wrong. He should try again with solid evidence to back up his claims.

    The title of Mr. Cachat’s item is “The Hoax of Biomass and Modern Forestry”. It’s fair to disagree over biomass as it’s a complex subject but to imply that modern forestry is a hoax is going too far. Much “forestry” is poorly done, but there is good forestry out there on both state and private land. It would be more productive to promote good forestry rather than accuse all of it as being a hoax; especially if you like wood products.

    Joe Zorzin
    Mass. Licensed Forester
    “practicing forestry since 1973”

    Like

  • Thanks for your comment, Joe.

    Keep in mind that this is an opinion piece which doesn’t include citations. Perhaps if you contact the author he’d be willing to provide references?

    Like

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