Respecting the fire


What gets lost sometimes in the debate over forest management is the importance of fire in the health of our forests. Just in the last couple days, two articles were published that illuminate this point very clearly.

First off, great news out of the Sierra Nevada region of California: a state agency is working toward a plan to thin forests to protect them from catastrophic fires. Even better news: the agency, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, is working closely with timber, environmental, biomass and government officals to make sure all the stakeholders are involved.

And thinning forests will lead to more business and much-needed jobs, according to the story in the Fresno Bee:

Steve Wilensky, a Calaveras County supervisor, said his district once had 22 lumber mills, but the last closed 16 years ago.

Now, more than 25% of the work force is unemployed and 86% of children are eligible for at least partially paid school lunches.

But there is hope: Wilensky helped write a jobs-creation program that began in 2005 with the aim of putting people to work thinning forests, moving wood chips to a biomass plant and burning the wood to create electricity. He also sees a market for wood pellets, posts and poles, pressed logs and craftsman woodworking products.

Wilensky’s program is a model for some of the (Sierra Nevada) initiative’s proposals.

New Sierra jobs could include forest thinning, biomass energy plants or manufacturing forest-related items, such as pellets for wood stoves.

Secondly, the Wenatchee World has a nice profile of Dale Swedberg, a manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who explains why fire, and thinning forests to protect them from large fires, is critical to keeping forests healthy.

Swedberg is heading up a project to thin and burn 2,000 acres of wildlife preserve. It will improve soil quality, allow certain helpful plants to grow while killing weeds, and strengthen waterways.

On a different note, we wanted to also provide links to a few recent biomass stories that are of interest: a proposed biomass plant in Mason County, Wash., is facing opposition from a small number of activists. And yet a similar plant proposed in Gainesville, Fla, was given a positive editorial in the local paper. And lastly, sustainable finance experts, in London for an international conference on sustainable forestry, see a bright future for biomass.