Forest Biomass of Economic Interest

wood scrapsForest biomass is a term economists and researchers use to describe what a logger would tell you comes from leftover timber harvest residue, bark, branches, and small diameter tree stuff. Ask someone at a sawmill and they might say that ground-up pile of saw dusty wood mulch is called “hog fuel”—of the vegan variety, used to feed biomass-fired power plants. Heck, some folks are even making jet fuel from the stuff now. Whatever you call it, this sustainably fresh Douglas fir-scented forest matter has been the subject of increasing scientific and economic interest.

Researchers from Oregon State used computer models to map out some good ideas in regards to forest biomass operations specific to 65 possible locations in western Oregon. Results were published in the journal Forest Policy and Economics this month.

Biomass is just one of multiple forest management objectives in addition to timber revenue that might someday lend support to forest resource dependent communities, describes the paper.

The development of a market for currently non-merchantable forest material, such as harvest residues or small diameter trees, has been suggested as a possible win-win solution that could: (i) provide a material that can be processed in rural communities reeling from changes in the forest products industry and policy environment; (ii) capture more value from timber management activities; and (iii) provide a financial incentive for treatments to reduce wildfire risk or restore forest stands.

“We thought this might provide some support for that idea,” said Mindy Crandall, study lead author and former doctoral student at Oregon State, in a recent press release. “But from a strictly market feasibility perspective, it isn’t all that likely that these facilities will be located in remote, struggling rural communities without targeted subsidies or support.”

Analysis included location-specific feasibility costs of regional processing facilities under a variety of different management scenarios, policy support situations, and possible increases in harvest activities on federally owned forests.

“Just like with real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location’ that matters here, and national forest lands are not uniformly distributed across the landscape,” said Darius Adams, study co-author and college of forestry emeritus professor. “They are frequently in less accessible areas, and it would cost more to transport material.”

Future forest biomass product potential seems inexorably linked to emphasis placed on other objectives like reducing risk from wildfires, restoring forest ecosystems, and bolstering rural economic and energy development.

By Matthew Hunt