Ideas for New Administration: Managing for Climate Change Mitigation-Biomass

From the 2013 Argonne National Lab study


Here’s Mac McConnell’s idea for the new Administration:


In 2011 the United States Forest Service (USFS) promulgated a program document entitled Strategic Energy Framework.
“The Forest Service Strategic Energy Framework sets direction and proactive goals for the Agency to significantly and sustainably contribute toward resolving U.S. energy resource challenges, by fostering sustainable management and use of forest and grassland energy resources.”
I write this paper in hopes of furthering these goals, focusing on the national forests’ signature resource: biomass.


In 2013, the Argonne National Laboratory, under contract with the USFS, published a report “Analysis of Renewable Energy Potential on U.S. National Forest Land”. It revealed that, at that time, some 14 million acres of national forest (NF) land were highly suitable for biomass production. This resource is renewable, immense, and virtually untapped.
Should this resource be developed? The question has been raised as to whether the national forests can support a larger timber harvest. Alternatively, should the carbon remain sequestered in standing trees , thus slowing the progression of climate change? The answers can be found in the chart.

During the 31 years period ending in 2016, drastic changes took place in the management of national forest resources. Emphasis (dollars|) shifted from tangibles, such as timber, forage, and road construction and maintenance to intangibles (wilderness experience, endangered species and old growth protection) and fire management.

As a result of these factors, plus chronic under-funding, serial litigation, and over-planning and analysis, timber harvest has declined by 75% and the forests are now harvesting about 8% of their growth. Mortality due to fire, insects, and disease increased by 200%.. Net annual growth (Gross annual growth minus Mortality) decreased by 39%.

The chart makes apparent the long-term adverse impacts of virtual non-management. As trees in unmanaged forests and under stress from climate changes die in increasing numbers they no longer sequester carbon, but rather become sources of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. Prudent harvesting for energy biomass uses these dead and dying and unwanted trees to replace fossil fuels while creating a healthier and more resilient timber stand. It also creates a market for presently unmerchantable material and a new job market in rural areas urgently needing economic help.

Other renewable resources

While this paper focuses on biomass, the 2013 Argonne Lab report also investigated the presence of the solar and wind energy potential on NF land.
National forest solar resources are abundant with 565,000 acres of NF land with a production capacity of 56,000 Megawatts potentially available, primarily in the Southwest.
While minor wind opportunities exist locally, the principle developable areas are located on the 17 national grasslands totally 4 million acres.

Proposed Action
I propose that the Forest Service initiate a greatly expanded program of biomass utilization focused on active participation in the development of small-scale (< 20 MW) energy projects on selected national forests. This would include assistance in siting (providing suitable land for facilities), planning, financing (grants or low-interest loans), and long-term contracts that would ensure a continuous fuel supply.

Congressional authorization and funding will allow this action to take place.

USDA Forest Service 1997, FIA Forest Resources of the United States, 1997 (Tables 33 & 34)
USDA Forest Service 2011, Strategic Energy Framework
USDA Forest Service 2017, FIA, Forest Resources of the United States, 2017 (Tables 33 & 34)
USDA Forest Service, Annual Cut and Sold Report
McConnell, W.V. (Mac). 2018. Integrated Renewable Energy from National Forests in193 Million Acres, 32 Essays on the Future of the Agency, Steve Wilent editor, Society of American Foresters,651:333-338
Zvolanek, E.; Kuiper, J.; Carr, A. & Hlava, K. Analysis of Renewable Energy Potential on U. S. National Forest Lands, report, December 13, 2013; Argonne, Illinois..

W.V. (Mac) McConnell is a self-styled visionary who, b(uilding on his 30 year career with the U,S. Forest Service and mellowed by 47 post retirement years in the real world,  hopes to change the way the  Service manages the peoples’ forests. He specializes in energy biomass management (short-rotation-intensive culture energy crop systems)

*Additional Note from Sharon: The Argonne study also looked at hydropower and geothermal; it’s interesting to look at the tables by forest and also the maps for concentrated solar, PV, wind, hydro and geothermal. The biomass estimates focused on logging residues and thinning. Criteria are listed on page 12 of the report.*

3 thoughts on “Ideas for New Administration: Managing for Climate Change Mitigation-Biomass”

  1. Ironically *smirk*, the Republicans want to deny funding for National Forests in blue States. Both sides in Congress don’t want to fund the Forest Service, for their own selfish political reasons. Until we can get past these political hurdles, the forests will continue to suffer.

  2. Clearcutting the Black Hills National Forest and restoring its historic habitat can’t happen soon enough.

    Dendroctonus ponderosae or mountain pine beetle predates by millions of years Pinus ponderosa in the Black Hills which only reached that region less than four thousand years ago. Native Douglas fir, limber and lodgepole pine have been mostly extirpated from He Sapa, The Heart of Everything That Is and after a century of destructive agricultural practices invasive grasses infest most of western South Dakota. The Island in the Plains has been broken for decades but the collapse of select Black Hills ecosystems has been evident since at least 2002.

    The absence of prescribed burns, the persistence of cheatgrass on the Black Hills National Forest and on other federal and state ground are just more examples of the intense lobbying efforts of Neiman Enterprises and from welfare ranchers addicted to cheap grazing fees. Instead of allowing native aspen to be restored, stands of doghair ponderosa pine (ladder fuels that feed wildfires) cover much of the BHNF.

    Spurred by the Neimans the Forest Service is still planting pine in the Jasper Fire area. Much of the 2002 Grizzly Gulch Fire outside Deadwood occurred on ground owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the 60th anniversary of the 1959 Deadwood Hill Fire was just recently commemorated but because of Senator John Thune (NAZI-SD) costs of conducting prescribed burns are now thousands of dollars per acre instead of hundreds.

    Add the very high number of private inholdings within the Black Hills National Forest that make the wildland urban interface (WUI) very large to one of the highest road densities in the entire national forest system and Region 2 to lots of logging, hardrock mining and pesticides like Carbaryl then understand why over a hundred species in South Dakota alone and a million worldwide are at risk to the Republican Party

  3. I was more struck by the laughable nature of it at least in terms of biomass production criteria. Apparently nothing about site productivity/capability but rather a bogus metric of wood waste residue in the county which is always going to be higher in forested settings. One could take the collective 100,000 acres of the Delta NF and St. Francis NF on Mississippi Valley Alluvial lands and create fiber farms that would easily equal a million acres of that unproductive, dry western junk. Of course they were excluded because little wood residue produced in counties that otherwise are growing cotton, rice and soybeans. In fact over the years the Crown Zellerbachs, Westvaco’s and Anderson-Tulleys proved this experimentally (8-10 yr rotations on cottonwood to feed their local mills). Of course the larger question is that if private industry cannot make the economics of biomass work, which by and large really they haven’t except for pellets as a byproduct from pine plantations and/or a few non-managed hardwood swamps cut once and abandoned in VA-NC-SV, why should the govt? So what was this really? Some DOE GS-14 scientists with little ecological knowledge, no forestry knowledge writing a report that superficially promises fusion from water because they know their DOE audience is equally uniformed. But they got an end of the year cash award and they added to their Factor IV in the RGE process.


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