The state of California has set the ambitious goal of reducing wildfire hazards on 1 million acres of public and private forest per year. New research suggests that developing a market for the small trees and branches thinned from these forests could fund even more management — and reduce the carbon footprint of the process.
Forest management includes prescribed burning as well as mechanical thinning of undergrowth and small trees. “These are things that generally leave the forest as chipped biomass, if they leave the forest at all,” says Daniel Sanchez, an engineer and energy systems analyst at the Univ. of California, Berkeley. More often, these forest residues are piled and left to decay.
This is a lost opportunity for preventing carbon from entering the atmosphere. Forests are important carbon “sinks,” or natural reservoirs where carbon remains in vegetation rather than entering the atmosphere. Wildfires can release this carbon, as can rot and decay. A new analysis led by Sanchez finds that if small wood products cleared during forest management were used in the production of biofuels and engineered wood products, it would result in 39% fewer carbon emissions than the business-as-usual scenario.
The use of forest residues in biofuels would have the added advantage of aligning with California’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, which aims to reduce pollution and carbon emissions from the transportation sector...
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