Woody Biomass Use Doesn’t Have to be Controversial

By Rona Johnson | January 04, 2011

This month’s theme, woody biomass, has caused quite a stir as more projects that intend to utilize the resource to produce power and heat emerge.

One of the main concerns people have about using woody biomass as a power source is that it will decimate our nation’s forests. I understand why this is a concern, but I maintain that the use of woody biomass can be sustained by concentrating on the planting of fast-growing tree species on marginal land, replanting tree stands as they are harvested, which is already being done, and focusing on wood residue that isn’t used by the wood products industry, such as insect and disease-damaged trees and forest residue that’s removed to prevent fires.   

I recently read about a great example of how a group of forest managers, the forest products industry, environmentalists, economic developers and other interested parties in Arizona have worked together to sustainably use woody biomass from national forestlands. The White Mountain Stewardship Project, which involves the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forests in East-Central Arizona, was created to provide a long-term, reliable supply of woody biomass for the wood products industry, reduce the risk of wildfires and stimulate the local economy, according to the article. The project, now in its fifth year, has succeeded in maintaining and improving forest health, creating jobs, supporting the local timber industry and the economy, and producing energy. The article “Contract Brings Jobs, Energy, and Healthier Forests” by Steve Wilent was published in the December issue of The Forestry Source.

The article talks about the project, its benefits and the effort it took to make it successful. As you may have guessed, a lot of hard work and compromise went into this project. As with any large-scale project involving several different people and entities—all with their own agendas and goals—there are challenges and disagreements, but the fact that they could all come to some sort of agreement is something that should be celebrated. And, as one of the sources in the articles pointed out, it didn’t happen overnight. “That’s one of the bigger lessons that we try to impart to other national forests who come out here and ask how they can make this happen on their forests,” says Sue Sitko, The Nature Conservancy’s White Mountain program manager. “You can’t simply decide you’re going to implement a stewardship project and expect everything to fall in line. There has to be a lot of work up front before that happens.”

To read more about this project, visit www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/saf/forestrysource_