Tag Archives: fire

AUDIO for LIVE DEBATE: Can Removing Fuels for Biomass Energy Reduce Wildfire?

In August, The Biomass Monitor hosted a debate between Chad Hanson, Ph.D., Director and Principal Ecologist for John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute and David Atkins, former Forest Service ecologist and forester and current president of Treesource, over the effectiveness of cutting trees in backcountry forests to limit the spread and intensity of wildfire.

Subscribe to quarterly email issues of The Biomass Monitor to receive the recording in the fall issue. Subscribers can also contact thebiomassmonitor@gmail.com and we’ll get you the link right away.

 

[OPINION] The Disconnect Between Myth and Reality in the Rim Fire

[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Forest Biomass Utilization Combatting Catastrophic Wildfires,” by Julia Levin, Bioenergy Association of California & Tad Mason, Registered Professional Forester]

– by Chad Hanson, Research Ecologist, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute

Large fires in the western U.S. have become the stuff of myth in recent years, with the public dialogue surrounding such fires now taking on the character of fish tales. Everything gets bigger, more dramatic, and more extreme with each telling, often resulting in an ever-widening gap between fact and fiction. There is perhaps no fire for which this is more true than the 257,000-acre Rim fire of 2013 in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

Demonized by the Forest Service and the timber industry’s allies in Congress as a “moonscape,” where the fire burned so intensely that it “sterilized” the soil, the impression was created in the popular imagination of a landscape overwhelmingly dominated by high-intensity fire effects in the Rim fire, where every tree was killed and little or nothing would grow in the future. One local logging industry advocate claimed, without any basis in evidence, that the Rim fire moved so fast that deer could not outrun it and birds could not fly fast enough to escape. All of these claims were repeatedly reported in the news coverage as if they were fact. In the context of this narrative, pro-logging members of Congress and the timber industry pushed for a massive post-fire logging program on National Forest lands, and the U.S. Forest Service complied.

But it is now more than three years after the Rim fire, and the smoke has long since cleared, so what is the truth?

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[OPINION] Forest Biomass Utilization Combatting Catastrophic Wildfires

[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “The Disconnect Between Myth and Reality in the Rim Fire,” by Chad Hanson, John Muir Project]

– by Julia Levin, Executive Director, Bioenergy Association of California & Tad Mason, Registered Professional Forester

California’s 2013 Rim Fire burned more than a quarter million acres; early estimates suggest that damage to the environment and property values could reach $1.8 billion. It destroyed wildlife habitat, released millions of tons of carbon emissions, and damaged key watersheds.

Sadly, catastrophic wildfires like the Rim Fire are increasing in frequency throughout the inland West. Land managers are very focused on proactive strategies to address the unnatural buildup of forest biomass. Forest thinning and hazardous fuels removal are important strategies to return forest landscapes to a healthier and more fire resilient condition. Utilization of this excess forest biomass as a feedstock for renewable power generation can provide a market-based solution that serves as an alternative to current biomass disposal techniques such as piling and burning or leaving biomass material on site.

Western forests are suffering from the combined impacts of past fire suppression efforts, development, and climate change, which is causing higher temperatures, reduced snow pack, invasive species and more intense weather events that trigger wildfires. Together, these factors are causing a perfect storm of weakened, combustible forests that lead to catastrophic wildfires. California has lost more acres to wildfire in the past five years than in the previous seventy years combined. In 2015 alone, California lost an area larger than the state of Rhode Island to wildfire. Other western states tell a similar story.

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[NEWS] Bioenergy Opportunities in Colorado from Beetle-Killed Trees

– by Joseph Pomerening, October 24, 2016, Renewable Energy World

colorado_forest_renewableenergyworld

Photo: Renewable Energy World

When you think of Colorado, images of snow-capped mountains and lush evergreen forests may come to your mind. But Colorado’s forests have been under attack. It began more than two decades ago when severe drought led to an infestation of mountain pine beetles, spruce beetles, and other pests. The beetle infestation, over time, killed millions of acres of lodgepole pine trees and other tree species. There is now an abundance of dead trees standing on the mountainsides of central and western Colorado.

Decomposition of dead trees occurs naturally and is healthy for a forest ecosystem. However, too many dead trees makes the region prone to forest fires that are costly and dangerous to contain. Forest fires can damage property and communities, harm wildlife, and threaten water supplies.

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[OPINION] Wildfire: Thinning Forests for Biomass Energy Can Reduce Fire Severity

[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Wildfire: Dead Trees Vital to Forests,” by ecologist George Wuerthner.]

– by John Buckley, Executive Director, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center

Over 13 years as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, I worked primarily on hotshot fire crews. During those years I fought a number of the largest wildfires ever documented in California as well as many other wildfires elsewhere across the West.

For years I taught wildland fire behavior classes, helped ignite and manage prescribed burn projects, and spent entire summer/fall seasons (between wildfires) doing post-fire restoration work in recently burned areas.

From that experience, I can emphasize that fuel loading, fuel arrangement, continuity of fuel, and fuel moisture combine with fire weather, topography, time of day, and other factors to determine fire intensity. Put simply, the more dry fuel that is packed on moderate to steep hillsides on a hot summer afternoon when there are up-slope or up-canyon winds, the higher the likelihood that a wildfire will make major runs that kill a large percentage of trees that might survive a lower intensity fire.

Strategically planned biomass removal projects can reduce that build-up of excessive fuel.

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[EXCLUSIVE] Bioenergy Industry Fires and Explosions

– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Fires and/or explosions have occurred at over 75 industrial bioenergy facilities and storage areas over the last fifteen years, resulting in multiple injuries and nine deaths, based on research from The Biomass Monitor.

Fires at bioenergy facilities typically start from boiler fires, spontaneous combustion of fermenting woodchip or sawdust piles, or wood dust explosions, according to the Institution of Fire Engineers and F.E. Moran Plant Services.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls dust fires a “major industrial hazard.” An October 2009 OSHA report notes 280 dust fires and explosions at industrial sites—the largest percentage being wood, but also including “food products, metal products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, rubber and plastic products, paper products, furniture, electric and sanitary services, transportation equipment, durable goods, and textile mills”—over the past 25 years, which have killed 119 people and injured 700. OSHA conducted 1,000 inspections, with 25% of inspections of wood related facilities and found 3,786 federal (74% serious) violations and 1,140 state (34% serious).

Dust explosions throughout industry—not just the bioenergy industry—are tracked on a website by GreCon.

The most recent bioenergy-related accident occurred on August 8, 2018 when recycled wood ignited in an industrial hopper at E.ON’s Blackburn Meadows biomass power facility in Tinsley, UK.

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