Date of this Version
Forest Guild, US Forest Service, September 2008
Interest in woody biomass from forests has increased because of rising fossil fuel costs, concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, and the threat of catastrophic wildfires. However, getting woody biomass from the forest to the consumer presents economic and logistical challenges. Woody biomass is the lowest-value material removed from the forest, usually logging slash, small-diameter trees, tops, limbs, or trees that can not be sold as timber. This report brings together 45 case studies of how biomass is removed from forests and used across the country to demonstrate the wide variety of successful strategies, funding sources, harvesting operations, utilization outlets, and silvicultural prescriptions. The case studies are available at http://biomass.forestguild.org. Seven main themes emerged from collecting and comparing the biomass removal case studies: objectives, collaboration, ecology, fire, economics, implementation, and regional differences. Biomass removal projects tend to combine multiple objectives such as ecological restoration, wildfire hazard reduction, forest-stand improvement, rural community stability, employment, and habitat improvement. Collaboration, with both the interested public and contractors, is a key element in successful projects. Stewardship contracting presents a flexible way to develop partnerships and invite constructive public involvement. The Ecological impacts of biomass removals, both positive and negative, need more research. States and non-governmental organizations are creating guidelines for biomass harvesting that may help to protect forests and alleviate concerns about the impact of removals. Fire is the main driver of many biomass projects. In many cases, the goal of biomass removals is to reduce forest fuels and wildfire hazard. Biomass removal provides substantial ecological benefits when it helps to re-establish natural fire regimes. The economics of biomass removal are challenging. The case studies demonstrate that biomass removal projects are rarely a source of income. However, some managers generated a profit by combining multiple forest products in the removal, taking advantage of fluctuations in the biomass market, and selling to established outlets. The implementation of biomass harvests benefit from mechanization as well as dividing the harvesting and handling of forest products among multiple contractors. New technologies were tested in some case studies, and others on the horizon offer the potential for further cost reductions. The case studies reveal regional differences and the importance of designing projects to fit the biophysical conditions and social context of each site. Taken together, these case studies show that all aspects of woody biomass removals, from markets to mechanization, are evolving. This report identifies the building blocks for successful biomass projects—including public involvement, partnerships with contractors, and judicious mechanization of harvest operations—that are present in the management of many forests across the country.