JUNE 2009

Pending bill on renewable energy omits mention of woody biomass
Clearing biomass from forests will keep them healthy

Despite pending federal legislation that promotes renewable, clean energy and creates new jobs, people in rural areas are being denied the promise of a green economy, according to the American Loggers Council (ALC).

Unemployed loggers all over the country could have a future in sustainably gathering and selling tons of clean-burning woody biomass to power plants were it not for the fine print in The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that’s now under consideration in the House of Representatives.

The harvesting of woody biomass involves collecting stems and wood waste from the forest or stands of beetle-killed wood – but the Act excludes 60 to 70 percent of biomass sources in the United States because the biomass lies in federal and certain private forests.

“Woody biomass is not the cutting down of old-growth trees,” said ALC executive vice president Danny Dructor. “A sustainable biomass industry will keep our forests healthy and provide clean energy and green jobs.”

While it commends Congress’ commitment to renewable energy, the ALC is committed to educating Congress about the true benefits of woody biomass harvesting:

•Reviving small-town economies;

•Creating a viable, proven source of renewable energy;

•Reducing the risk of catastrophic forest fires by removing dead and dying trees and the waste that provides fires much of their fuel;

•Fighting insects that destroy forests by thinning dense stands and removing the waste in which pests breed.

Throughout the United States, the closing of mills has devastated small-town economies that once relied on logging. In Oregon, 30 percent of loggers are currently unemployed and many rural communities reliant on forestry now suffer from almost 20 percent unemployment – more than twice the national average.

“Here in Minnesota, counting loggers and spin-off jobs from mills, unemployment in our industry’s probably 60 percent,” said logger Jerry Birchem, of Virginia, Minnesota.

But Birchem has found his own solution through harvesting woody biomass. Not only does he own a wood pellet plant, providing a clean energy solution for his area, but he also gathers and sells woody biomass to a power plant.

“I saw some of the economic trends for logging a few years ago,” Birchem said. “And if it weren’t for biomass, I’d only have half the work I have now. The popular position used to be that there should be no harvesting of anything, and it seemed like they’d rather have forest fires, but I don’t think that’s the mainstream view anymore.”

Like Birchem, third-generation logger Scott Melcher of Sweet Home, Oregon, saw an opportunity to diversify his business when he decided to collaborate with another local businessman to collect and haul the biomass to a utilization center instead of piling it up trailside and burning it.

So logging does have a future and there’s a big economic stimulus waiting to be had for rural economies and everyone else – in creating renewable energy through woody biomass.

“One thing that’s important for people to understand is that forests grow; that’s what they do,” he said. “There will always be biomass, and collection of biomass could keep loggers going forever.”