Can Mushrooms Prevent Mega-Fires?: WaPo Story

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.


Mushroom spread

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.


Anyway, the complexity of decomposition is interesting, check out this paper..and then this one about insects and fungi.

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.

25 thoughts on “Can Mushrooms Prevent Mega-Fires?: WaPo Story”

  1. Dear Sharon,

    The Earth’s carbon cycle is an enormous process, involving 800 GtC in the atmosphere, 2,000 GtC in the biosphere, and 1,000 GtC in the surface oceans. The deep oceans contain an estimated 38,000 GtC in the carbon graveyard.

    Most of us prefer to use gigatons of carbon GtC as the unit, but petagrams of carbon (PgC) are the same thing.

    Hence, 11 PgC/y from wood decay are just 11 GtC/y or a little more than human carbon emissions of 10 GtC per year. In rough numbers, our atmosphere exchanges about 100 GtC with both the biosphere and the ocean surface every year. Hence, wood rot is a significant part of the carbon recycling process on this planet, but not an overwhelming one.

    If we did not recycle carbon, via carbon dioxide, life would quickly die here.

    When wood rots or burns, the resulting carbon dioxide is taken up by plants. Air filters we call leaves or needles convert the CO2 in the presence of water and sunlight to glucose (C6H12O6). From that simple sugar, all life originates. Plants use it to produce other sugars, starches, carbohydrates, cellulose, proteins, etc that they need to grow. Animals then eat plants to obtain the energy and substance they need.

    In other words, virtually every living thing is made from carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. Those who do not understand this talk of removing carbon dioxide from the air. That means removing life from the Earth. The increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last half century has allowed us to feed the eight billion people who call this planet home. Removing CO2 from the air would condemn a billion people to starvation, if we went back to 350 ppm from the current 420 ppm. Part of the success of Norman Borlaug’s magnificent ‘Green Revolution” was enhanced atmospheric CO2. It has literally greened the Earth.

    Carbon dioxide is not only valuable, it is ESSENTIAL.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

    • “Those who do not understand this talk of removing carbon dioxide from the air. That means removing life from the Earth. The increase in atmospheric CO2 over the last half century has allowed us to feed the eight billion people who call this planet home. Removing CO2 from the air would condemn a billion people to starvation.”

      Other relevant factors you didn’t mention are the trend in cropland, and in production per unit area. And that CO2 fertilization often slows down considerably after a couple decades.

      Plant life was doing just fine before the industrial era at CO2=280 ppm.

      Plants grown at higher CO2 are less nutritious and have fewer of certain minerals:

      But the bigger problem is, of course, climate change: higher temperatures, more extreme weather, more drought, shifting growing zones, which affect many crops negatively, more weeds, more insects, sea level rise and salt water intrusion. Greening is a positive feedback to global warming. For these reasons it is far from clear that CO2 is a net good for agriculture and food production. Not to mention all the negative effects of climate change on plant and animal species, and human civilization.

      “Negative impacts of global warming on agriculture, health & environment far outweigh any supposed positives.” Smith et al. PNAS (2009),

      David Appell, PhD (Physics)
      Keizer, Oregon USA

      • There is typically a huge difference between what those selling climate catastrophe say and what the real science actually says. Numerous studies document the vast improvement in growth of many plant species, including trees, from CO2 fertilization. These experiments are simple to do in greenhouses. Sherwood Idso was a pioneer in conducting such studies.

        This is easy to understand, because most plants use carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to produce glucose (C6H12O6), from which all life follows.

        Farmers now routinely grow crops in greenhouses, where they enhance the CO2 level to 1500 ppm from the ambient of 400 ppm. If you like greenhouse tomatoes, you should thank enhanced CO2.

        NASA satellites have also confirmed a near universal increase in green leaf area across this planet, due to increasing atmospheric CO2.

        Geologists also confirm that life on this planet thrived in previous eras, when CO2 was far higher than today. CO2 has, in fact, been decreasing from about 2,500 ppm 140 million years ago. It reached a low of about 180 ppm at the end of the last Ice Age, when life in some areas, like the Gobi desert, started to die back, and the Earth had vast dust storms that lasted, not for a decade as in the 1930s, but for tens of thousands of years.

        Those interested in more information from authoritative sources should visit our website:

        I am one of the Directors of the CO2 Coalition, along with the 2022 Nobel Laureate in Physics John Clauser, Princeton Professor of Physics Will Happer, and others. We have an All-Star team of 130 prominent scientists and economists.

        Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
        Corbett, Oregon USA

        • You didn’t address anything Dr Appell wrote, Gordon. You just word vomitted the same things you’ve been saying on a *forest management blog* since you first heard someone said something bad about Cliff Mass.
          Dr Appell used actual peer reviewed studies, you just linked to your own partisan website.

          Finally, please address “Geologists also confirm that life on this planet thrived in previous eras, when CO2 was far higher than today”. For whom/whats life?
          If the answer is technology solves everything, and we can grow our way out of too many people on the planet, well, that is the same as saying that we can just clearcut our way out of the homeless issue that is in the US and entire world.

          • Dear Anon,

            I see that there is a good reason that you want to remain anonymous. You want to be sarcastic, without suffering consequences.

            The man you elevate to “Dr Appell” is, in fact, a journalist who walked away from his scientific career almost a half century ago. He is now completely partisan.

            The CO2 Coalition is quite the opposite. We are a group of exceptional scientists and economists who think that science should NOT be an exercise in politics, but an exercise in the Scientific Method. One of our Directors is the 2022 Nobel Laureate in Physics, Dr. John Clauser.

            We were recently successful in getting the Scientific Method reinstated into the K-12 curriculum in North Carolina, where it had been removed. Unfortunately, most other states still do not require that their students learn what distinguishes science from politics, namely objective reality derived from experiments.

            As to our geological past, you need only open a geology textbook to see plots of CO2 and temperature, going back hundreds of millions of years. I am thinking of information like this:


            Note the reference to the scientific literature.

            But please do not rely on just one reference. The fact that an article has been published does not convey ANY air of absolute authority. Only complete amateurs believe that. Consider other published work such as this:






            The distinguished scientists at the CO2 Coalition have the expertise to pull together the many scientific articles that have something credible to say about CO2 and climate. Journalists dedicated to political ideologies simply do not.

            We also publish our own scientific articles written my outstanding physicists like Professor Will Happer of Princeton University. Professor Happer is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, as are other members.

            If you want to know what life existed in the Jurassic Period*, let me recommend Michael Crichton’s book and movie, ‘Jurassic Park.’ Although science fiction, Crichton specialized in a type of fiction that only exaggerated one thing, our ability to recreate dinosaurs from fragments of DNA.

            The Coalition’s fundamental point is that carbon dioxide is overwhelmingly beneficial. It is even more than that. Carbon dioxide is essential to life on earth. The more the better, up to limits such as the US Navy submarine limit of 5,000 ppm. We are all made from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight that plants are able to synthesize into glucose. From glucose, YES from sugar, all life follows.

            Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
            Corbett, Oregon USA

            * According to the National Geographic Society:
            “The Jurassic period (199.6 million to 145.5 million years ago) was characterized by a warm, wet climate that gave rise to lush vegetation and abundant life. Many new dinosaurs emerged—in great numbers. Among them were stegosaurs, brachiosaurs, allosaurs, and many others.”

            Atmospheric CO2 was about 2,000 ppm during the Jurassic Period, a near ideal level for life to prosper.

            • Gordon,
              When was the last time you published anything peer reviewed?
              What is the difference between you and Dr Appell? You both have PhD’s, and perhaps, are reinforcing my lack of respect for PhD for those who “walk away” from science to push forth agendas.
              You didn’t address his criticisms, you just gave some links (which is what he did as well – notice that the people who gain traction her, use numbers and facts?)

              Lastly, you have, in your short time commenting here, been nothing short of sarcastic, condescending, and agenda driven. I reply in the like.
              Sincerely, Anon.

              • Dear Anon,

                I typically emphasize the need for credentials to properly address a subject as complex as climate. But David Appell is a great example of how I can be very wrong. He once obtained the scientific credentials but has not continued to exercise what he presumably learned. Exercise is necessary.

                As to references to scientific papers (which you requested), I have provided them with simple explanations for those who are not able to deal with complexity. You have apparently not considered any of the graphs that I referenced. If you had, you would have realized that life on this planet has thrived for hundreds of millions of years with far more atmospheric CO2 than we have today. You would also have learned that we are close at 400 ppm to the minimum for life to survive on this planet (180 ppm). 1500 to 2000 ppm would be a far safer level.

                As to “numbers,” I use only what are necessary, because most people have no ability to distinguish what is important from what is trivial.

                David Appell thinks that the food he is eating is not as nutritious as it would be, if the plant were starved for CO2. That is trivially true for a unit amount of a given plant. But increased atmospheric CO2 allows plants to grow much larger and faster, therefore producing far more calories and nutrition. So, his claim is deceptive.

                Emphasis on the trivial is what alarmists love to do. They claim warming from increasing atmospheric CO2. That is also trivially true but extremely misleading.

                When no anthropogenic ‘Global Warming’ has been separated from natural warming and natural variations (such as the ENSO cycles), alarmists switch to ‘Climate Change.’ When that is recognized as merely a truism, they switch to ‘Climate Disruption.’ When even the UN IPCC says that there has not been any increase in extreme weather events they revert to being argumentative, just like you.

                A BS, MS, and PhD in Physics are more than sufficient credentials to be able to discuss this subject. Yes, I know that David Appell disproves that. So, it is not always true.

                Only college professors care about how many papers they have written. The rest of us emphasize quality over quantity. I come from the Think Tank world where we did classified research for DoD. Now I write authoritative stories for children, so they will not grow up to be scientifically illiterate. And my work is always peer reviewed, by some of the most celebrated scientists in the USA who volunteer their time for the CO2 Coalition.

                Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
                Corbett, Oregon USA

                • Gordon J. Fulks wrote:
                  “A BS, MS, and PhD in Physics are more than sufficient credentials to be able to discuss this subject. Yes, I know that David Appell disproves that.”

                  That’s your only tactic, Gordon, to insult me personally?

                  And I thought you were better than some other people here, unnamed. But I see not. You are both very self-conscious of degrees and qualifications and who gets to have a say and who doesn’t, as if you’re insecure of your own places.

                  As I recall, Gordon, you only published one peer-reviewed journal paper in your entire career, right?

              • I’ll also “reply in kind” — Because he uses his real name, which means you can Google him and attack him personally if that is your style. Only a coward would use a pseudonym to publicly attack real people. And coward is the polite word.

                Other people also use pseudonyms here, and maybe there is a good reason in some instances. Those that use this device to attack others and call names, though, are a special category. I won’t say “cretins,” though that word does come to mind. Obviously not man, or woman, enough to come out of hiding when hurling insults, whatever the rationale. “Creep” is another one. Still living with Mom in a basement?

                Exactly why I don’t like engaging with phonies. Especially in public and/or while otherwise having a reasonable discussion. Trolls.

                • Thanks Bob,

                  Everyone should stand up and support civilized behavior, beginning with using real names and saying only those things that are significant and can be verified.

                  Science is all about responsible behavior, not mindless attacks on those perceived as enemies. Scientists win arguments, even fierce arguments, with the best logic and evidence, not character assassination.

                  • Gordon, on this blog we all don’t use real names. And that’s OK. Some Anons are trollish but many have valuable insights. Please don’t diss them.

                    • Hi Sharon: As you know, I have been consistent on this point for many years — some of the anonymous people on this blog have valuable insights, which is important, as you’ve stated — although I think more value could often be added by using their actual identities. It’s the trolls that set me off — using no name or fake names while attacking others.

                      In previous discussions on this topic, it has been revealed that a few people seem to have reasonable cause to use pseudonyms, and those people seem to be respectful of other ideas and posters, whether for or against. I don’t think they’re the same people as the ones hurling insults.

                      Maybe numbers or some other way to differentiate between the anonymous trolls and the anonymous positive contributors? Some of us get snarky from time to time — myself included — but when real names are used and the source can be readily identified it is a much different situation. In my opinion, still.

          • Anon quoted Gordon Fulks as writing:
            “Geologists also confirm that life on this planet thrived in previous eras, when CO2 was far higher than today”.

            This claim is a favorite tactic of deniers. It’s a profound misdirection they hope you won’t notice.

            The question isn’t whether life, of some kinds, can exist at higher CO2 concentrations than we have today. Of course it has, and could someday again.

            The relevant question is if life can withstand the HUGE RATE of climate change we’re now seeing.

            Our warming rate is now 0.25 C/decade, with consequent repercussions for the climate, and is very, very abnormal compared to any point in the past. It’s essentially off the charts*. And climate CHANGE is what stresses species and what has, in the past, let to many extinctions, including mass extinctions.

            Even worse, humans have penned in many animal species by roads, cities and highways, so they aren’t as mobile as they were before a few hundred years ago.

            All reasons why we’re now in the 6th mass extinction event.

            The change is what’s important, not the CO2 level. This is well known by real science students.

            * For example, compare our current rate of warming to that of another era, the warming from the Last Glacial Maximum 21,000 yrs ago to the beginning of the Holocent 11,700 yrs ago. That saw a global temperature change of 6 C. That’s an average warming rate of

            6 C/(21,000-11,700 yrs) = 0.006 C/decade

            which is about 40 times slower today. Yet that warming looks huge and fast on any temperature plot we see:

   (and the like).

      • David, be sure to let us know when we get warmer than medieval, Roman, and Minoan times.

        We are still waiting for actual evidence that man’s co2 is causing serious global warming.

      • David Appell wrote (reformatted)–“But the bigger problem is, of course, climate change:
        1) higher temperatures,
        2) more extreme weather,
        3) more drought,
        4) shifting growing zones, which affect many crops negatively, more weeds, more insects,
        5) sea level rise and salt water intrusion.
        6) Greening is a positive feedback to global warming.

        The IPCC disagrees with what you wrote in items:
        1) Correct – IPCC says the Earth only warmed 0.78degree C from 1850-2005. hardly a problem and probably not an accurate number due to measurement errors.
        2) WRONG – IPCC says we do not have enough data to say that hurricanes have increased and we do not have enough data to say that storms have increased.
        3) WRONG – IPCC says the confidence is low for a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness
        4) Really?? less than one degree causes growing zones to shift!!
        5) WRONG – IPCC says the sea level has been rising for centuries, it HAS NOT RISEN FASTER recently.
        6) Prove it!

        David also said–‘Not to mention all the negative effects of climate change on plant and animal species, and human civilization.”
        Sorry, David the claim is that CO2 causes warming, NOT any and all CHANGES. Please DO MENTION all the positive effects since they are greater than the alleged negative effects.

        And, while you’re at it, pleas show us actual evidence that man’s CO2 is causing serious global warming.
        You’re refusal to answer this simple request shows that YOU do not actually know of any evidence to support your wild claims, most of which are ordinary weather and have been seen many times throughout the holocene.

  2. From the MIT Climate Portal:

    “Des Marais says some people point to climates of deep history as proof that plants can endure or even enjoy very high concentrations of carbon in the air. We know from the geologic record that hundreds of millions of years ago, Earth had an atmospheric CO2 level in excess of 2,000 parts per million (ppm). That’s compared to around 200 ppm in pre-industrial times and 414 ppm in 2021.

    Although plenty of plants lived through that period—albeit different species and in different places than today—humans did not. Such a CO2 level would produce year-round scorching temperatures akin to what we experience in summer today. In other words, he says, “this is not a period we would ever want to visit.”


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading