State DNR biomass report says slash extraction won’t hurt forests

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

A state Department of Natural Resources study has concluded that 3 million tons of bone-dry wood slash and other wood waste — double the existing amount that’s extracted — can be removed from Washington forests for biomass fuel production without harming forest health.

Released Tuesday, the Washington Forest Biomass Supply Assessment was prepared by the University of Washington, College of the Environment, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and TSS Consultants of Rancho Cordova, Calif., with financial support from the U.S. Forest Service.

Bill Hermann, owner of Hermann Brothers Logging & Construction Inc. in Port Angeles, joined DNR Commissioner Peter Goldmark in a video conference announcing the release of the 183-page report.

See it here at http://tinyurl.com/pdnbiomass .

Hermann said at the video conference that his company’s biomass-related activities have created 25 to 30 new jobs, about one-quarter of his workforce.

“During the past few years, it’s been a stabilization function of our business,” Hermann said in a later interview.

“The lumber markets and such are up and down, but this pretty much goes on steady every day.”

Harvesting slash for use as biomass is a new industry that will provide a return to landowners whether the property is public trust land or privately owned, Hermann said.

“The big thing is there is a lot of supply, and technologies and such will have room to grow as a piece of the energy supply chain.”

But the study does not address the health impacts of burning biomass, an issue at the forefront of two Thurston County Superior Court appeals of biomass-burning projects at Nippon Paper Industries USA in Port Angeles and at Port Townsend Paper Corp. in Port Townsend, both of which will generate electricity for which the mills can sell credits.

Biomass project opponents Gretchen Brewer of Port Townsend, Shirley Nixon of Port Angeles and Bob Lynette of Sequim said Tuesday they had not yet read the report.

But Lynette suggested the study’s direction was misguided.

“The last time I looked, they weren’t going to come out with their decision on how much can you take out,” he said.

“How much do you have to leave is really the question. If you don’t know how much you have to leave for a healthy forest, you can’t determine how much you can take out.”

A DNR working group is examining forest practices rules for biomass products that will address how much wood waste needs to stay in a forest to maintain the forest’s health, Natural Resources spokesman Bryan Flint said.

It will make suggestions by the end of summer that could be adopted by the state Forest Practices Board, he added.

Nixon said that it appeared DNR had a preconceived conclusion.

“They were supporting biomass and cogeneration and talking about selling DNR forestry products and entering into contracts,” she said.

“That came before the study.”

Brewer, an organizer of PT Airwatchers, said there are large questions over what can and can’t be taken out of a forest and still maintain habitat and forest health.

“Frankly, in general, it’s bad to take the material out of the forest and put it into people’s lungs,” she said.

A bone-dry ton of biomass can create the same British thermal unit content as a barrel of oil, Tom Swanson, area manager and vice president for Port Angeles forestry company Green Crow Corp., told the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting at its Feb. 21 breakfast meeting.

The report proved that doubling the slash and wood waste collected will still leave enough biomass for wildlife habitat and forest regeneration, Flint said.

The report does not analyze biomass supply by county. Jefferson County has 199,000 acres of DNR land and Clallam County 159,000 acres.

The report’s conclusions allow DNR to move forward with more aggressive harvesting of slash for use as biomass, Flint said.

“We’ve been waiting and working on developing contracts, and the Legislature gave us direction to develop long-term contracts to remove biomass,” Flint said.

“Having this report allows us to move forward and sign contracts with businesses to start using that biomass.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 13. 2012 6:37PM
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