Put People to Work in Rural Communities Restoring Forests and Creating Biomass Energy
A Strategy for Oregon's Economic Prosperity
Fifty-eight percent of Oregon’s forestlands are federally owned. Due to years of political gridlock, inadequate funding, the absence of a consistent federal forest policy, and lack of coordination between various local, state, tribal and federal government entities, these forests have become overgrown and present a major risk of fire and insect infestation, particularly in Eastern and Southwest Oregon.
This situation offers Oregon a significant opportunity to accomplish three of its long-standing goals: healthy forests, rural jobs and renewable energy. There is agreement among environmentalists, foresters and local communities that responsible thinning and other restoration activity must be done on our federal forests in order to reduce risk of catastrophic fire and insect infestation.
This active management, by itself, would immediately create in-woods jobs that are much needed in rural Oregon. Furthermore, the by-products of these thinning activities, “woody biomass,” if utilized as renewable energy for electricity and heat, can create many more jobs. In the near-term, jobs can be created through the building and expansion of biomass facilities. These facilities would continue to provide jobs in rural communities for the long-term as well. The generation and use of biomass energy can help protect Oregon jobs for the foreseeable future, as companies seek stable sources of clean energy to comply with increasing state and federal mandates for renewable energy.
There are significant barriers to capitalizing on this opportunity but a committed group of Oregonians is working to address them and has developed recommendations. They need strong leadership from Oregon’s next Governor to break through barriers and move ahead quickly:
- Tap ARRA funds for key projects that are ready to go.
- Implement a coordinated strategy with local government, industry, environmental groups, the Tribes and Federal lawmakers to identify new projects that can be implemented quickly.
- Create strong connections with the Federal government for key changes in policy that are required to take full advantage of this opportunity.
- Ensure that “woody biomass” is included as a renewable resource in state and federal renewable energy incentives and mandates. This will help ensure that there is adequate demand in the marketplace for the byproducts of forest restoration operations.
Biomass energy represents a growth sector for Oregon’s forest products industry, diversifying its longstanding base of lumber and paper products, while adding jobs both immediately and in the long term. Environmental benefits include both federal forest restoration, as discussed above, and the maintenance of private working forests, which now contribute over eighty percent of the state’s annual timber harvest. A robust market for woody biomass energy, combined with other non-traditional incentives such as payments for ecosystem services, would help private forest landowners keep working forests in forest use, and help conserve their contributions to clean air and water, carbon storage, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation, in addition to green energy.
I have to laugh out loud at the idea of "burn days" and "non-burn days" in the halcyon days of trying to confront the issue of people burning wood in woodstoves as we confront whole states being innundated with smoke.......or as they said on the news banner: "There is a pall of heavy smoke over Albuquerque tonight.......yes there is a pall of environmental ignorance as we watch our inheritance burn up and our economy stagger." Hmmmmm...maybe modern mobile steam generators attached to state of the art battery systems operated by people who could use the work and might benefit from being close to nature in our forest; the one thing that represents, more than anything, our wealth. Period.