Biomass utilization was the subject of a workshop in the Siskiyou County board of supervisors’ chamber Tuesday of last week.
Participating with county officials were representatives from the city of Yreka, US Forest Service and private timber companies, resource centers, watershed groups, forestry industry and other concerned citizens.
Biomass is woody debris and other vegetative matter found in the forest. Finding other uses for it, including energy production, is seen as a way to lower fire risk, generate profits and provide sustainable economic activity.
References were made throughout the workshop to the threat of lawsuits from various groups that have opposed biomass plans.
“Dangerous emissions from forest fires are enormous compared to other sources of pollution,” said Supervisor Marcia Armstrong in preliminary comments at the four-hour workshop.
Armstrong claimed that from 2001 to 2007, greenhouse gas emissions from forest fires in California were equal to pollution from all the cars driven in the state for three-and-a-half years.
County natural resources policy specialist Ric Costales, who organized the workshop for the supervisors, pointed out that the information came from a recent study, “Impacts of California Wildfires on Climate and Forests (2001-2007)” by Dr. Thomas M. Bonnickson, professor emeritus at Texas A & M University.
Bonnickson earned his doctorate degree in forestry at the University of California, Berkeley and has been studying the state’s forests for 30 years. He is the author of “America’s Ancient Forests: From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery.”
“California forest fires in 2008 alone released 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” forester Danielle Lindler claimed, “which is equivalent to 11.8 million cars running for one year.”
Lindler, the executive director of Klamath Alliance for Resources and Environment, attributed the information to reports from the California Forestry Association.
Lynn Jungwirth of the Hayfork Watershed Center in Trinity County facilitated the workshop. She has worked with biomass utilization for more than 20 years.
“I am thrilled that the board of supervisors has taken an interest in this subject,” she said.
Jungwirth used an analysis matrix throughout the workshop for developing biomass utilization programs that included components such as ecological considerations, economics, social implications, business capacity and policy considerations.
Larry Alexander, representing the recently-formed Siskiyou Biomass Utilization Group, spoke about “maximizing the biomass utilization opportunities in Siskiyou County.” SBUG is sponsored by the Northern California Resource Center in Scott Valley.
Also active in the group is Bruce Cortwright, a retired Forest Service employee who is coordinator of the Lower Scott River Fire Safe Council.
Both men were involved in the recent biomass utilization workshop held at College of the Siskiyous in cooperation with the new environmental resources technology program.
“We’re working with fire safe councils, Forest Service personnel and private timber companies,” Alexander said. “We’re chipping and grinding; a lot of biomass is being produced and wasted.
“Finally, at COS, cities and counties came together, trying to do something,” he continued. “We’re trying to maximize biomass utilization opportunities in this county.”
Alexander and others envision as many as eight biomass utilization operations spread throughout the county.
SBUG meets the last Tuesday of each month at the Community Center is Yreka. All interested persons are encouraged to attend.
It was reported at the workshop that the county’s Resource Advisory Committee, which was set up and funded by the Secure Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, has funded about $1.5 million of forest health projects from Title II funds allocated by the act.
Of the 19 proposals funded to date, $609,000 is being used for fuel reduction and defensible fuel breaks around the county. It was pointed out that a proposal to assist with development of biofuels development is being considered.
Yreka City Council member Jason Darrow spoke to the workshop about a Yreka Development Commission biomass utilization project envisioned for Yreka in partnership with Timber Products Company to be located at the proposed industrial park site.
Local developer and former Yreka mayor Dusty Veale is among those working on the project.
Bill Turner, general manager of Timber Products, said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the proposal.
Turner noted that his company has been utilizing biomass in its company boiler to produce energy for use at the veneer mill.
“We also burn biomass in the open,” he said, “but would prefer not to, if there was a viable market for this material.”
Turner told the group about a thinning project the company bid on in the Mt. Shasta/McCloud Ranger District put together by the Forest Service. Timber Products got the bid, but it took more than seven years of fighting lawsuits from environmental groups to actually start work on the fuels reduction program.
Proponents of biomass utilization projects expressed concerns at the meeting that their plans could get tied up by litigation.
“It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” said Steve Henson, general manager of Roseburg Forest Products in Weed.
Henson reported that Roseburg has been burning wood in its boiler for 100 years. It formerly provided all of Weed’s electricity. Recently, he said, the company invested $12 million to upgrade the boiler and add a turbine to more efficiently produce electricity and improve the emissions controls.
The project was approved by the county’s planning commission and the board of supervisors and was set to begin producing 8 to 10 megawatts of excess electricity to sell as “green energy.”
However, at the last minute, according to Henson, a lawsuit was filed by “a very small opposition group” that has stalled the project and cost Roseburg and the county hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We could have pulled this project out of Siskiyou County years ago and had it running up in Oregon in 60 to 90 days,” Henson said.
Although not mentioned by name during the workshop, the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center and Weed Concerned Citizens have filed lawsuits in opposition to the Roseburg project against Roseburg Forest Products, the county of Siskiyou, the board of supervisors and the county’s Air Pollution Control District.
The Weed Concerned Citizens group believes that the project would increase air and noise pollution, increase the risk of Legionnaires’ disease, produce carcinogenic wood dust and diesel soot, increase truck traffic in the city and lower property values in Weed and its surrounding areas.
“[The project] does not comply with environmental laws, and does not adequately protect the citizens who live here,” the group’s web site states. “Citizens have therefore challenged the project’s approval, asking that better protections for our communities be included in the project’s design.”
Board chair Michael Kobseff echoed the feelings of other supervisors by saying, “There must be reform of the California Environmental Quality Act. We need legislation that requires those appealing these projects to assume some of the financial burdens associated with this kind of litigation.”
The U.S. Forest Service was represented at the workshop by Klamath National Forest supervisor Patty Grantham, KNF resource manager John Schuyler and Mt. Shasta/McCloud Management Unit district ranger Priscila Franco.
Grantham spoke of the “great opportunity” for fuels reduction in the national forests and utilization of biomass. She mentioned benefits such as public safety, forest health, pollution reduction, less dependence on imported fuels and wildfire reduction.
“We could make a dent out there,” she said.
Schuyler spoke of opportunities for Forest Service grants for feasibility studies and construction of biomass utilization facilities. He stated that the Forest Service could buy power generated from projects.
He stated that there are 64 million tons of biomass material available. Stewardship contracts are being offered to clean up and thin areas, he said, although there is currently more litigation now than in the past that could slow progress.
“There are obvious political and legislative challenges,” Schuyler added. “Elected officials don’t always understand.”
Franco also spoke of energy production opportunities, fuels reduction and economic development, which could provide sustainable employment.
She explained the “golden hour” concept, which describes how far a truck can drive to a processing facility in order to achieve economic viability.
And there are market realities, Franco explained. “Burney has two biomass power plants; one is not even taking chips right now and the other one is working only three days a week.”
“But,” she added, “there are thousands and thousands of acres coming on line that will need work and that could produce biomass.”
Supervisor Jim Cook summarized the workshop and thanked all who participated.
“Because of the lawsuits being faced by the county and Roseburg, it should be a priority for us to study what could be done differently in the future to get these projects moving,” he said.