June 13, 2007

Salvaging wood from natural disasters

We've all heard the following bromides:
"When all you've got are lemons, make lemonade."
"Turning a silk purse out of sow's ear."

Somehow they don't quite measure up to what needs to be done with the devasting waste refuse of natural disasters. However, unless something is done with this unanticipated wealth of biomass, the decay may lead to further perpetuation of the emergency conditions: forest fires, disease, infestation, and the release of even more greenhouse gases.

An interdepartmental government task force called the Federal Woody Biomass Working Group and Partners (WBUG) has been formed to, among other things, draw up contingency plans to deal with the residual biomass of woody biomass related disasters - from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and the like. What resources can be enlisted to collect the residuals? What processes can be employed to mitigate the harmful effects of the decay? What benefits can be derived from converting the biomass into bioenergy or biofuels?

A proposal has been drafted by the WBUG titled "Timber Recovery and Wood Utilization Response Plan." In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, its initial focus is on wind events and disturbances in the Eastern and Gulf Coast Regions. Here are some excerpts from their funding proposal to create the plan:

Executive Summary:
The Plan will assist in the short term response, but also provide opportunities for long term economic and environmental recovery. Many partners have been engaged in developing this proposal, and see high potential for coordinating a broad spectrum of federal, state, tribal and local government and industries in disaster debris and wood utilization.

Final Product:
A hands-on tool for planning for and responding to multiple-level wind disasters at local, state, regional, and national levels. It will also be a framework for better coordination among the various federal, state, tribal and local government agencies, and with partnering organizations within the forestry, arboricultural, disaster response, and wood utilization sectors.

The scope of this project is to begin the process of (1) focusing on the recovery of downed or damaged woody biomass in the forest, both merchantable and non-merchantable material not currently being recovered, and (2) expanding and improving upon national, regional and local response to disaster debris disposition, including green waste and uncontaminated demolition wood.

Meanwhile, another natural disaster has befallen the Southeastern states of Georgia and Florida - a months long fire that resulted from acute drought followed by intense lightning from thunderstorms.

Here's another bromide - "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." It is time to enact and fund policies and procedures that will strengthen proper stewardship of the nation's forests. Sadly, not much can be done with the pitiful amount of biomass left after a major fire. It is a time to clear out the refuse and replant the forests.

Fires Rip through GA, FLA
Timber Harvesting Magazine
May/June 2007

Wildfire fighters from Georgia and surrounding states continued to struggle to put out a major forest fire that had scorched more than 100,000 acres in southeast Georgia, with major fires spreading into northeast Florida and popping up across the Florida Panhandle region.

The Sweat Farm Road/Big Turnaround Fire, burning mostly in Ware and Charlton counties south of Waycross and near the Okefenokee Swamp, is the biggest in Georgia history, covering more than 100 square miles. Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an Executive Order on May 2 declaring a state of emergency in 21 counties in southeast Georgia, citing severe drought conditions and extreme wildfire threat. Through the second week of May, the area had passed a record-setting 66 days without rain.

Yet a line of thunderstorms that provided a small amount of spotty rain the weekend of May 7 did more damage than good, with lightning strikes starting new fires. One, the Bugaboo Scrub Fire, started at the southern tip of the Okefenokee and quickly burned into Florida, scorching more than 30,000 acres in two days. Other wildfires have popped up across the Panhandle region, with a subdivision in Freeport losing 4 homes and having 13 others damaged.

As of May 8, Florida officials reported fires burning in 54 of the state’s 67 counties.

Extensive post-fire surveys and inventories have yet to be performed, but early observations are the fire has burned extremely hot across all age classes and in many cases stems are completely burned and unsalvageable. Salvage rate for merchantable-size timber may be as low as 15%, according to one early report, with poor markets making the salvage situation even tougher.

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