To Joe Laurance, harvesting biomass for diesel is not nearly as important as reducing fuel loads in our fire-prone forests and also hiring hundreds — if not thousands — of workers to thin overcrowded trees.
To do so, the Douglas County commissioner says, is to get back to pre-European conditions in the forests. Laurence says that means that forests should be thinned enough for a horseman to travel from one side to another without using a trail — as in the days when indigenous people set fire more often than lightning strikes to create clearings.
“Well there is going to be a lot of timber that will go here and there,” Laurance said Wednesday while speaking at a global warming national teach-in at Umpqua Community College. But he said the thinnings won’t be nearly as aggressive as clearcuts.
To put it succinctly, Laurance calls his proposal “active forest management.”
In these days of global warming discussions internationally and dwindling timber safety net revenue provincially, Commissioner Laurance said biomass harvests in Oregon could convert timber slash into more than 400 million gallons of diesel fuel and generate timber receipts for cash-strapped rural counties. The diesel fuel figure comes from the Oregon Forest Resource Council, he added.
But most importantly, Laurance said, biomass harvests could become a sustainable industry that will get workers back in the woods and help stem the loss of jobs in rural counties.
As for tying Douglas County with potential renewable energy industries, Laurance said biomass seems to be the most viable option for job creation. That’s because the county is well known for having little wind — so turbines won’t likely ever appear atop the Callahans. And the potential for solar panel manufacturers or wave-energy producers on the coast is still unclear, although commissioners on Wednesday did select an Irish engineering firm to explore options for a wave-generated electricity plant near Winchester Bay.
Fuels reduction will also decrease the chances of catastrophic wildfire catching the forests ablaze and consuming tens of thousands of acres, which in turn releases tens of thousands of tons of carbon emissions, Laurance said. That’s why biomass conversion could become part of a solution for sequestering carbon.
Laurance added that biomass harvests could provide much-needed relief to the U.S. Forest Service, which now spends more than half of its budget on fire suppression.
Laurance said a wood-waste processor, such as one developed by Philip Badger of Renewable Oil International, works anaerobically, storing carbon waste in bio-char.
The bio-char could then be converted into charcoal or home heating pellets.
On Aug. 7, Laurance and Badger, president of Renewable Oil International, will demonstrate a working and portable biomass converter near Lemolo Lake, about 70 miles east of Roseburg in the Umpqua National Forest.
“Those who have been to Diamond Lake have seen a lot of lodgepole pine — we’re going to use that material,” Laurance said to about 20 people in the Indian Room at UCC.
Though selective harvesting could provide plenty biofuel and timber receipts, at least one audience member reminded Laurance that the timber industry — overall — really isn’t trained for aggressive thinning. Al Walker also said that it had taken him at least three years recently to find a professional logger who was capable and willing to selectively thin trees on a few acres of his property.
The problem, he added, is that many loggers don’t want to deal with “widowmakers” — rotten trees that can unexpectedly fall on a logger who is selectively cutting trees nearby.
“It’s not an easy thing,” Walker said of the skill set it takes to thin aggressively.