Wildfire, drought, tree mortality, distressed watersheds: each of these events affect the communities, economy, and environment of the Sierra Nevada. Our forests are in dire straights, overcrowded and undernourished following a century of fire suppression practices implemented with the best of intentions, with no silver bullet in sight. However, following extensive research and on-the-ground work, Sierra Business Council (SBC) is making the case for a solution component that includes co-benefits for rural economies, climate resilience, and, of course, forest health. This month, SBC is releasing “Biomass in the Sierra Nevada: A Case for Healthy Forests and Rural Economies”.
In recent months, biomass utilization for renewable energy has been a hotly debated topic amongst environmental organizations, often painted with a broad brush that loses sight of the many nuances around forest thinning standards, facility size, fuel source, and location. SBC’s paper digs into these nuances, accounting for concerns around environmental justice, emissions, sustainability, and biodiversity, and comes out with a scientifically-backed case specifically for forest biomass power generation as a method of helping California meet its stated forest health goals in order to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and increase resilience.
The paper details the current state of the Sierra Nevada, provides how judicious removal and use of excess forest material can balance necessary forest treatment costs, and identifies co-benefits including improved watershed quality, reduced wildfire risk and costs, improved air quality, and the creation of high paying year-round jobs in natural resource communities. The goal of the publication is to add a new level of discourse to the biomass conversation, to cut through controversy for a look at the realities around the largest concerns so that decision-makers can make the right choices for their communities. The goal is for a Sierra Nevada brimming with revitalized, fire resilient forests and communities; this paper intends to offer a pathway to getting there.
Wildfire risk is increasing in size, intensity, frequency, and duration across a broader range of communities and landscapes. Wind-driven fires as a result of Diablo wind patterns (rather than fuel-dominated wildland ground and crown fires) are also increasingly common, leading to structure fires in urban communities that originate in the wildland urban interface (WUI) or wildlands.