This picture is located within the Cedar Breaks National Monument, where conifer mortality is quite excessive. There is really not much that can be done with this situation, other than spending lots of money to fell, pile and burn. Within the Dixie National Forest, this mortality dominates the upper elevations. Even at this altitude of over 10,000 feet, the land is very dry for 9 months, except for seasonal lightning storms. Like some of our public lands, we need a triage system to deal with such overwhelming mortality and fuels build-ups. In this example, we are too late to employ a market-based solution, which would do more non-commercial work.
I have seen this area over many years, and have watched as forests die and rot, with catastrophic wildfire being the “end game”. Anyone venture a guess at what will grow here, in the future?
Forestry operations and bioenergy have been part of the economic and social fabric in Northern California for decades. A five-year study produced in 2009 by the USDA Forest Service modeled forest management under different scenarios across 2.7 million acres encompassing the Feather River watershed. The model’s time horizon spanned four decades, examining wildfire behavior, forest thinning operations and a range of environmental and economic impacts. It concluded that in virtually every aspect analyzed, managing forest resources and utilizing biomass for energy production provides significant advantages over the status quo.
With acres per wildfire going WAY up, thinning projects seem to be the way to go to reduce both wildfire sizes and wildfire intensities. Again, we have strict diameter limits in the Sierra Nevada, and clearcutting has been banned since 1993.
The link is here
I saw a local article about our part of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.
For the first time in many years, loggers and conservation groups are working together and the results have been stunning, according to Katherine Evatt, president of the Pine Grove-based Foothill Conservancy.
The Amador Calaveras Consensus Group has been working in the Stanislaus and Eldorado national forests on projects that are part of a larger national program called Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration.
The goal is to restore forests for people, water and wildlife, and a report released in December shows some of those goals are being met.
The ACCG Cornerstone Project is one of 23 national projects that split $40 million in 2012. According to the fiscal year-end report for the project, the two forests spent more than $658,000 in CFLRA funds this year, matched by more than $433,000 of other Forest Service funds. There was more than $67,700 in ACCG in-kind partner contributions and more than $1 million in leverage funds from ACCG members. Additional funds included a $196,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Company as well as $283,000 worth of in-service work under stewardship contracts.
The article is here
You can listen to the National Public Radio segment from All Things Considered here. The opening snip is below:
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: When it comes to renewable energy, wind and solar get a lot of attention. But wood actually creates more power in the U.S., and Massachusetts state officials are scaling back their efforts to encourage wood power. It may be a renewable resource, they say, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren has that story.
ELIZABETH SHOGREN, BYLINE: Power plants that turn wood into electricity aren’t anything new. They’re called biomass plants. They’ve become more popular as states have tried to reduce the use of fossil fuels. The idea is wood is a renewable resource. You can always grow more, but the state of Massachusetts decided it wasn’t enough to be renewable. It wants climate-friendly fuel, so it kicked most power plants that burned wood out of a program that helps renewable electricity plants earn more revenue. Mark Sylvia is commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
MARK SYLVIA: I think what it says is that Massachusetts is very curious about focusing on our climate goals.
SHOGREN: Massachusetts wants to cut its greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020 and power plants are a huge source of greenhouse gases, so the state asked some scientists to take a hard look at the greenhouse gas footprint of power plants that burn wood. John Gunn of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences was one of the researchers who did the study. He says the results challenged conventional wisdom.
JOHN GUNN: Basically, we found that if you’re going to switch from using fossil fuels for energy to using more wood for energy that, for a period of time, the atmosphere would see an increase in greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.
I tried my hand at some “digital thinning”, with a picture of the Stanislaus National Forest, above the Mokelumne River. I couldn’t really remove as many of the bigger trees as I should, without sacrificing photorealism. I did “enhance” some of the oaks, which is a keystone of the new paradigm of ecosystem wildlife values. I am sure there are some home habitats of ESA birds, here. There would also be some pockets of undisturbed forest, and maybe some bigger openings around the oaks.
Below is the original picture
I think we can all say that there is, indeed, some excess trees to thin out, in this stand.
This is an example of what our thinning projects look like, when completed. As you can see, the stand is still well-stocked, and ladder fuels have been removed. You can also see that the stand will be resilient and that all the logging slash has been removed, as well. In looking closer, I’m not seeing any damaged trees, as well. Additionally, no large trees ( over 30″ dbh ) were cut, unless they could fall and hit the adjacent highway.
This logging was done during this season, and work is continuing in other units. The project is quite visual, being all along a major Sierra Nevada highway. We call this style of project “thinning from below”. Any thoughts?
Justin Scheck of the Wall Street Journal has the full story. Snips are below:
The U.S. Treasury Department plans to demand back more than $5 million it granted a Montana power plant that later filed for bankruptcy, in what would be a rare foray by the government into the courts to claw back job-creation funds distributed under the 2009 economic-stimulus package….
The Treasury paid Thompson River $6.5 million in 2010 from a piece of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act known as Section 1603 that reimbursed developers of renewable energy with cash payments equivalent to 30% of their projects’ costs. The program has given out more than $11 billion, the Treasury Department says….
The grant to Thompson River, majority-owned by a Minnesota private-equity firm, was to convert a coal-fired plant to burn wood, which is considered a “renewable” power source. But since receiving the money, the plant never operated either as a coal- or wood-burning plant, according to Montana regulators, and has produced neither power nor new jobs. It is now mothballed. It is not known how many new jobs the firm promised to create, or how many currently are employed at the plant….
Thompson River was an old coal-fired power plant on which a new ownership group, led by Wayzata, spent more than $20 million to bring into compliance with emissions rules and burn “clean coal,” said people familiar with the project. After finishing the work, said a person involved in the project, Wayzata announced that the plant would burn only wood—making it eligible for the Recovery Act money as long as the plant was technologically capable of producing power. But its owners found they couldn’t operate the plant profitably by just burning wood, said three people with knowledge of the project….
UPDATE: The Missoulian’s new columnist, George Ochenski, also takes a look at the Thompson River Biomass Debacle in today’s paper:
“It’s not hard to recall the fiasco of the University of Montana’s recent biomass proposal, which ignored both economics and environmental impacts while being endlessly promoted by the university, Sen. Jon Tester and his handful of industry and environmental collaborators. It is equally important to remember that the Thompson River venture was initially sold to the public as a wood-burning plant, but quickly morphed into a super-polluting coal-burner once the economics of wood chips kicked in. Could that happen elsewhere? You bet it could.”
“Description: Current Sierra Nevada forest management is often focused on strategically reducing fuels without an explicit strategy for ecological restoration across the landscape matrix. Summarizing recent scientific literature, we suggest managers produce different stand structures and densities across the landscape using topographic variables (i.e., slope shape, aspect, and slope position) as a guide for varying treatments. Local cool or moist areas, where historically fire would have burned less frequently or at lower severity, would have higher density and canopy cover, providing habitat for sensitive species. In contrast upper, southern-aspect slopes would have low densities of large fire-resistant trees. For thinning, marking rules would be based on crown strata or age cohorts and species, rather than uniform diameter limits. Collectively, our management recommendations emphasize the ecological role of fire, changing climate conditions, sensitive wildlife habitat, and the importance of forest structure heterogeneity.”
This is a basic scientific reasoning for the marking prescriptions we are using in our current project. In scanning through some of it (it seems QUITE comprehensive!), I found this little gem.
‘How is ecological restoration defined in the GTR? In the face of changing
climate conditions, our focus is on increasing ecosystem resiliency. This focus
is consistent with that described in USDA Forest Service Manual 2020.5,
which defines ecological restoration as: “The process of assisting the recovery
of resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems that have been degraded,
damaged, or destroyed. Restoration focuses on establishing the composition,
structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to make terrestrial and
aquatic ecosystems sustainable, resilient, and healthy under current and future
In driving between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon, I was struck at the severe mortality from bark beetles. Here is what I saw the first time. The entire area had severe bark beetle mortality, with surviving aspen trees. I really doubt that any green trees were cut, as the bark beetles were still busily chewing and doing their thing.
The next time I drove through, I saw where snags had been felled and removed, resulting in this scene. I’m guessing that they skidded the logs over the snow, or used a helicopter. My bet is on over-the-snow skidding. This area is right at the summit, where the intersection to Cedar Breaks is. There are homes on the other side of the ridge. I like what they did here.