Here’s an interesting story from the WaPo (thanks to Nick Smith!).
Although this can be accomplished with prescribed burns, the risk of controlled fires getting out of hand has foresters embracing another solution: selectively sawing trees, then stripping the limbs from their trunks and collecting the debris.
The challenge now is what to do with all those piles of sticks, which create fire hazards of their own. Some environmental scientists believe they have an answer: mushrooms. Fungus has an uncommon knack for transformation. Give it garbage, plastic, even corpses, and it will convert them all into something else — for instance, nutrient-rich soil.An alternative to fire
Down where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains, in pockets of forest west of Denver, mycologists like Zach Hedstrom are harnessing this unique trait to transform fire fuel into a valuable asset for local agriculture.
For Hedstrom, the idea sprung from an experiment on a local organic vegetable farm. He and the farm owner had introduced a native oyster mushroom to wood chips from a tree that fell in a windstorm.
When slash piles are set alight, they burn longer and hotter than most wildfires over a concentrated area. This leaves behind blistered soil where native vegetation struggles for decades to take root. As an alternative, foresters have tried chipping trees on-site and broadcasting the mulch across the forest floor, where it degrades at a snail’s pace in the arid climate. Boulder County also carts some of its slash to biomass heating systems at two public buildings.
“We’re removing a ton of wood out of forests for fire mitigation,” Hedstrom said. “This is not a super sustainable way of managing it.”
He hopes to show that fungi can do it better.
For mycelium to be a truly viable solution to wildfires, however, it would have to work at the scale of the Western landscape. Hedstrom is experimenting with brewing mycelium into a liquid that can be sprayed across hundreds of acres. “It’s a novel biotech solution that has great promise, but is in the early stages,” he said.
Ravage doubts it could be so easy. “Half the battle is how you target the slash,” he said. Success stories like Balcones are rare. Ravage has spent a decade cultivating wild saprophytes and perfecting methods of applying them in Colorado’s forests.
He begins by mulching slash to give his fungi a head start. Then he seeds the mulch with with spawn, or spores that have already begun growing on blocks of the same material, and wets them down. Fungi require damp conditions and will survive in the mulch if it is piled deeply enough. Given the changing character of Western forests, however, aridity poses a serious hurdle.
I suspect aridity was probably a serious hurdle without the character of Western forests changing one iota.
Not sure I’d want to write the EIS for this; although it would be interesting to see who would be on what side.
Wouldn’t it be great if folks imagined doing an EIS before they embarked on certain research ideas (e.g. solar geoengineering?)?
Does anyone else remember when some environmental folks had concerns about collecting tree seeds and “”disrupting gene complexes” if the FS did not use seed from the same site (1980’s, Pacific Northwest). And now, folks talk about moving them farther based on computer models and that is considered a great idea by many. I wonder if it’s actually the practice itself, who’s doing the practice (and their motives), or why they’re doing the practice, that leads to these apparent differences in being pro or anti various forms of humanipulation.
One thing the reporter did not note is that carbon is released by fungi working on wood, albeit more slowly than burning in piles. And of course, there’s no smoke and waiting for appropriate weather conditions. Actually using the material for something (buildings, heat, electricity, ?), and capturing the carbon is something many folks are working on, thanks to USDA and other grants. Which might be worth another story.
Furthermore, we apply the experimentally derived decomposition function to a global map of deadwood carbon synthesized from empirical and remote-sensing data, obtaining an estimate of 10.9 ± 3.2 petagram of carbon per year released from deadwood globally, with 93 per cent originating from tropical forests.
93% is a lot.