I joined the Oregon Forest Resources Institute in 2007, a few months after it completed a major study, Biomass Energy and Biofuels from Oregon’s Forests. This month, OFRI completed a new, up-to-date special report and video related to biomass usage around our state.
So what has changed in the past six years? Has the use of biomass – more specifically, woody biomass – entered a new era where it will solve the nation’s energy needs? Is it a bonanza – a new-wave energy for the future?
As our new special report notes: “Something old is new again.” As a fuel, there’s nothing new about biomass. Ask a caveman or a cavewoman, if only you could. It was a relatively simple, easy and reliable process for them to use wood for warmth and cooking. And so it was until the middle of the 19th century, when coal and other fossil fuels began to overtake the world’s wood-fueled economy.
So what has changed since 2006 when OFRI last wrote about biomass?
More than ever, sawmill owners have embraced the latest technology to use biomass in clean-burning boilers. Those boilers – using a locally sourced fuel – produce steam heat that dries lumber and reduces their bill for natural gas, a fossil fuel. Sized correctly for the available biomass resource, those boilers are also selling modest amounts of locally produced electricity to our utilities. That also reduces the need for fossil fuels.
And since 2006, especially on Oregon’s east side, local collaborative groups have begun finding ways to restore sickly, overly dense forests – thereby producing small diameter saw logs and biomass from tree tops and other spindly trees not suitable for milling. Some of it goes to boilers, but some of it also goes to produce pellets and biomass bricks that are heating schools, airports and other public buildings. Until recently, these buildings were wholly dependent on fossil fuels. And before the high-tech furnaces were installed, those fossil fuels needed to be trucked to rural areas at great expense.
Perhaps most tantalizing for the future of biomass is the potential for producing liquid fuels for powering cars, trucks and airplanes. It’s no longer a pie-in-the-sky concept. The sugars from breaking down woody biomass can be used to produce these fuels instead of using corn, which of course is food. Today it’s no longer a question of whether we can do this profitably; it’s a question of how profitably it can be accomplished relative to the cost of fossil fuels. Not a small problem, but one whose solution remains within reach.
So woody biomass today is no bonanza or cure-all, but its sustainable use has advanced considerably in six years. The stories of biomass projects all have a common thread: how they have offset the use of fossil fuels to accomplish things we all need – heat for industrial processes, electric generation from a renewable resource, and production of liquid fuels that can help transport people and the products and services we depend on here in our state.
But for me, what has changed the most since 2006 is how biomass utilization may help us again create healthier forests and a measure of economic recovery in rural Oregon.
Director of communications
Forest landowners want to manage their lands to sustainably produce environmental, social and economic benefits. Forest certification is a market-based approach to recognizing sustainable forest management by labeling forests and the wood products from those forests as being certified. Having forestland certified under the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) lets people know that landowners are proudly managing their forests sustainably, and are in it for the long haul.
In the mid-1990s the Forest Stewardship Council was created by the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation groups as a way to certify that wood products were sustainably managed to meet conservation goals. The American Forest and Paper Association followed with the development of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, to demonstrate sustainability while meeting industrial wood-production goals. The American Tree Farm System, which has been around since 1941, also developed a certification system to demonstrate sustainability while meeting a diverse set of family forestland goals.
Today these private, independent programs apply third-party standards to wood and manufactured products from the forest. This level of transparency gives consumers, architects, engineers and builders credible evidence that the products were produced through responsible forestry practices. Certified products earn the right to display an “eco-label” seal of approval.
In total, nearly 4.7 million acres of private Oregon forestlands are certified by one of the three systems. FSC certifies about 567,000 acres; the ATFS certifies about 887,000 acres; and the SFI certifies about 3,229,000 acres.
More information on forest certification in Oregon is available at KnowYourForest.org.
In addition to managing the tree farm certification system in Oregon, the Oregon Tree Farm System also recognizes outstanding forest management by annually awarding county Outstanding Tree Farmers as well as the Oregon Tree Farmer of the Year. For 2013, Bill and Joan Arsenault of Douglas County are Oregon’s Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year. A tour of the Arsenaults’ tree farm near Elkton will be held on Saturday, June 15, as part of the Oregon Small Woodlands Annual meeting. The tour is free and open to the public, and includes a barbecue lunch.
More information on the June 15 Tree Farmer of the Year tour is available on the Oregon Small Woodlands Association website.
For the Forest,
Director of Forestry
Five years ago, when I began as OFRI's second executive director, I made a pledge to the OFRI Board of Directors that our public education efforts would become more digital. We had to, in order to stay relevant. Clearly, the explosive growth of the Internet, mobile devices and e-publishing demanded that OFRI keep up with the times.
This month, we're announcing our first-ever mobile application for smart phones and tablets. Oregon's Forest Facts & Figures, which we publish in hard copy every two years, is our most popular publication. Now you can download it as a free mobile app for iOS and Android platforms.
In addition, as OFRI watchers know, we've grown our Internet presence to four websites: OregonForests.org for the general public, LearnForests.org for formal and nonformal educators, KnowYourForest.org for forest landowners, and TheForestReport.org for people interested in economic information about the forest sector. In April, these four sites combined saw an average 6,000 monthly visitors.
Also this month we learned that DHX Advertising, the Portland firm we hired to write and design OregonForests.org, won a Hermes Creative Gold Award from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. This is wonderful recognition for their work, and that of the OFRI staff, as we join hands to tell the story of Oregon's amazing forests.
“We cannot afford to continue business as usual,” said Kent Connaughton, regional forester for the US Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region, comprising 25 million acres of national forests in Oregon and Washington, and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.
Connaughton keynoted the Oregon Society of Oregon Foresters’ annual meeting in Pendleton, April 24-26. His topic: “The future vision for eastern Oregon forests and forestry given the challenges and changes.”
According to Connaughton, 5 to 6 million acres of national forests in Oregon and Washington are in urgent need of active management to restore forest health and fire resiliency. The current rate of response is inadequate to the problem – meaning that, despite good intent, “we’re just dancing on the deck,” Connaughton said.
Left unsaid was, the deck of what? But I inferred he meant the deck of a sinking ship.
The OSAF confab took place at the Wildhorse Resort, located at the base of the Blue Mountains, where Connaughton said 1.26 million acres could benefit from active management.
The regional forest chief has initiated a strategy for increased action in the Blues, including the Malheur, Ochoco, Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla national forests. The strategy includes:
- an internal group of experienced Forest Service leaders to lead the effort
- an energetic coordinator to implement it
- a dedicated interdisciplinary scientific team to conduct environmental analyses and explore innovative ways to increase the pace and scale of sustainable, active forest management
Connaughton said he regards the Blue Mountains as a “gateway” to a broader discussion of forest restoration in the Pacific Northwest region.
One key to moving past “business as usual” and the gridlock over forest management is the use of collaboratives, Connaughton said. While he warned that these community-based groups are not a magic bullet, he said they have been helpful in building a common ground for moving forward at a landscape level, which he defined as areas of 10,000 to 15,000 acres. Doing so will require broad public support at the local, state and national levels, he said.
In a recent letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber, Connaughton wrote: “As described in the state’s National Forest Health Restoration Economic Assessment for Oregon, I believe a partnership with the State of Oregon is ripe to advance our collective desire to increase the pace and scale of management. I am hopeful a new business model can generate creative new approaches to funding, increased planning efficiencies, and collaborative alignment needed to achieve this outcome.”
To which I can only add: “Aye, captain.”
For the Forest,
Photo: Even the Oregon Trail, located on Emigrant Hill in the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton, has become choked with dense stands of fir and lodgepole pine where once stood widely spaced ponderosa pine amid grassy fields. Early settlers negotiated the highly treacherous seven-mile, 2,000-foot elevation drop into the Umatilla Valley.