By Rubina Obaid

“It is imperative to timely utilize dead trees and their thick undergrowth before they ignite large-scale wildfire and pollute the air while releasing huge amount of Carbon dioxide.”

In the last 12 years wildfire burned around 690 square miles in the northern Sierra Nevada, further drought, warming climate, and bark beetle infestations killed 147 million California trees since 2013. According to the environmental scientists, these trees will wreak the next round of mega-fires along with indicating a threat of great intensity of blazes that will leave some of the places unable to establish new forests ever again. Therefore, Jonathan Kusel founding director of Forest Community Research, a nonprofit organization based in Sierra Nevada of California dedicated to advancing community-based projects that involved evaluating the effectiveness of improving natural resource management for the health and well being of the community.

In 2007, the 65000 acres Moonlight Fire blew flaming cinders onto the lawn of his house near Taylorsville, California as he managed to evacuate his family. Last year, the Walker Fire burnt  54,614 acres just up the valley from the offices of the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment. Hence, Kusel got concerned to utilize those trees and their thick undergrowth before they ignite large-scale wildfire and pollute the air while releasing huge amount of Carbon dioxide. Due to the fear of fire, he started operating a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant to burn these dead trees in the biomass boiler. His institute invested in logging equipment to supply woodchips and to facilitate the biomass community.

While preventing massive wildfire and carbon emission, Kusel says that these biomass projects will also help greatly in rebuilding the rural communities by creating more job opportunities. In southeastern U.s. biomass projects are considered controversial, and the market reopened after facing strong criticism from European Union decision to categorize biomass energy as a form of renewable energy.  However, the Kusel project put forth an entirely different picture of biomass utilization that is mainly dependent upon the West’s fire-prone ecosystem.  According to Kusel’s study overcrowded forests contribute to fire danger therefore, it is imperative to utilize dead, diseased, and burned trees constructively. Along with large scale wood pellet operations in the Southeast, more than 25 other states from Maine to Hawaii have biomass plants generating electricity by burning wood.

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California is considered as the Hub of biomass plants, and also taking active measures to prevent the forests from wildfires by removing dense and dead trees and utilizing them for the biomass plants. Whereas Wolf, the Center for Biological Diversity finds negligible difference between Kusel’s project of biomass and conventional logging which is considered as destructive for the climate. As the dead trees also sequester carbon and Government contracts for biomass removal include commercial logging which is not only for dead trees and woody debris, but also of larger diameter trees. All these arguments went in vain when in 2018 alone, California wildfire released 45.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide which is more than half as much as what states’ industrial sector emits in a year. Nevertheless, Kusel looks forward to the innovative approaches on both fire and carbon and considers biomass as the byproduct of his project as his main objective is to extend his help for achieving eco-friendly approaches for preventing forests from wildfire.

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