Redwood Forest Foundation
The Biochar Demonstration Project:
A Manifestation of Community Forestry
By Judy Harwood, Project Coordinator,
A walk through Usal Redwood Forest
reveals the stark impacts of the "cut and run" legacy left by the past 50 years of timberland management. Vast clear cuts have created large stands of small diameter brush and trees that impede the growth of conifer and redwood trees, increase vulnerability to catastrophic forest fires and negatively impact the entire forest ecosystem.
Mendocino County Woody Biomass Working Group
As RFFI begins to deal with young, crowded, tan oak-dominated stands within the Usal Redwood Forest, we are working with the community to create environmentally, economically and socially beneficial alternatives to traditional herbicide applications that addressed these problems in the past. This has led to the creation of the Biochar Demonstration Project.
Biochar is created through a process called pyrolysis, where wood is heated in the absence of oxygen. The end product is a charcoal-like substance consisting mostly of the carbon that was originally stored in the wood. Once buried, this carbon can remain trapped for hundreds to thousands of years creating an effective carbon sink.
Biochar is also a useful amendment that can increase the nutrient exchange capacity of degraded soils, as well as reduce leaching, increase microbial activity, improve water drainage and infiltration, and adjust soil PH. Biochar can be used to address numerous soil problems, although, as with all amendments, it is important to understand the initial condition of your soil before adding conditioners.
In late 2010 a grassroots organization called the Mendocino County Woody Biomass Working Group (WBWG) approached RFFI to discuss launching a community-created demonstration project that would locate a small (3 bone-dry tons/day) biomass-to-biochar conversion unit within the Usal Redwood Forest. Excess woody biomass would be removed from 37 acres of overcrowded stands, converted into biochar and sold locally as a soil amendment and carbon sequestration tool.
The strength of the Biochar Demonstration Project comes from its collaborative approach, which integrates several important objectives. The project intends to demonstrate a cost-effective method for dealing with forest overcrowding and the associated negative impacts to forest health.
In addition, the U.C. Cooperative Extension will perform a plant and animal diversity study in forest areas where biomass has been removed; a Native American acorn harvesting orchard will be created in collaboration with local tribes; and biochar will be produced to provide a local input to agriculture, simultaneously capturing and storing carbon and improving local soil fertility. In essence, this project impacts everything from local native culture to global climate change.
Partnerships with the North Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council (NCRC&DC) and the North Coast Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (NCIRWMP) have created an avenue for this relatively small project to be plugged into regional efforts that will allow for information sharing and project replication throughout the North Coast. Thus far, the project has been partially financed by matching funds from all project partners as well as a grant through the Dept. of Water Resources which recognizes the critical role forest soils have on water quality. Private / public partnerships are currently being pursued to cover remaining costs.
The Biochar Demonstration Project is truly a model of RFFI's Three-E approach (see sidebar): It is a beneficial project created by the local community and enhanced through regional partnerships. It is one small piece of our emerging restoration-based economy in which removal of small-diameter brush and trees helps create healthier forest ecosystems, local jobs and movement towards a sustainable and equitable resource-based economy.
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RFFI and the Three E's
As RFFI seeks to promote self-sustaining communities that manage community-held assets with a focus on the benefit to future generations, we rely on three over-arching principles to shape our decision-making. We call these the Three E's:
Promote and restore the ecologic integrity of large working landscapes, which are so critical to addressing climate change and providing for an abundance of wild species.
Advance free-market solutions to timberland ownership and management that support local employment and local businesses while insuring that the resource remains economically productive in perpetuity.
Promote social equity through sustainable management solutions that are shaped by collaboration with local stakeholders. Future excess revenues will be reinvested in the community for its continued benefit.
RFFI's hope is that with the Three E's as its guide, the forest and the community will prosper together for generations to come.