Chief on Collaboration

Collaboration on forest restoration projects key to sustainability (Go here to see all the hyperlinks.)
Agency Chief testifies before House Committee on Agriculture

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 —In testimony on Capitol Hill today, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell emphasized the importance of collaboration in developing restoration projects on national forests and grasslands.

“The aim of these efforts is to move beyond the conflicts which have characterized forest policy in the past and toward a shared vision that allows environmentalists, forest industry, local communities, and other stakeholders to work collaboratively toward healthier forests and watersheds, safer communities and more vibrant local economies,” Tidwell said.

Tidwell emphasized that such collaboration not only results in better projects, but will also create jobs.

His remarks were made before the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry.

“The Forest Service recognizes the need for a strong forest industry to help accomplish forest restoration work,” Tidwell remarked. “Forest industry involvement also lowers the cost of restoration to the taxpayer by providing markets for forest products.”

Tidwell presented a list of programs already in place at the Forest Service that will enhance the restoration and management efforts on the nation’s forests and grasslands:

– Implementation of the new forest Planning Rule that emphasizes restoration, public involvement, and sustainable management to provide benefits and services both today and for future generations.

– Investing in restoration projects with partners though the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. These projects have demonstrated that collaboration among stakeholders can facilitate large landscape scale restoration, thereby improving forest health, reducing wildfire risk, restoring fire-adapted ecosystems, and increasing timber and biomass production from the national forests.

– The Watershed Condition Framework which provides a consistent and comprehensive approach for classifying the condition of the 15,000 watersheds that comprise the National Forests and Grasslands and for prioritizing restoration needs.

– Integrated Resource Restoration which allows the agency to align its budgeting to focus on landscape scale restoration projects across resource areas and, with partners, combine the restorative focus of several line items into a single item.

– The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy which is a collaborative process with active involvement of all levels of government, non-governmental organizations and the public working for an all-lands solution to wildland fire management issues.

– The Forest Service bark beetle strategy which focuses management efforts on priority treatment areas to ensure human health and safety and to reduce hazardous fuel conditions on more than 17 million acres of National Forest System lands impacted by bark beetles.

– Use of stewardship contracting which allows the Forest Service to offset the value of the services received with the value of forest products removed. This authority is crucial to collaboratively restore landscapes at a reduced cost to the government.

– Expanding markets for forest products through the development of new markets for woody biomass utilization and green building materials by providing a reliable and predictable supply of biomass for potential investors.

– Research using new technologies and cutting-edge science to help better understand impacts of forest disturbance on natural and cultural resources.

– Use of a new objections process prior to a decision, rather than using an appeals process after a decision. The process tends to increase direct dialogue between the agency and stakeholders and often results in resolution of concerns before a decision is made.

– Improved efficiency of the National Environmental Policy Act process by learning from and sharing the lessons of successful implementation of streamlined NEPA analyses.
“Today, people understand that forests provide a broad range of values and benefits, including biodiversity, recreation, clean air and water, forest products, erosion control and soil renewal, and more. Our goal is to sustain and restore ecosystems that can deliver all the benefits that Americans want and need,” Tidwell concluded.

Restore to What?

In a recent comment Mark said:

Now, let me address “restoration” briefly: Restore to what? April 11, 1767 at 2:33 am? The whole premise is based on this kind of faulty assumption. And then, if an area has been so disturbed that it needs “restoration” then likely, as is the case in this part of the country, actual physical aspects of the environment that were there back at the arbitrary time that you are choosing to “restore” to are missing.

It might be useful to let look at what the Forest Service says on the subject here, including:

How is ecological restoration defined?

Ecological Restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of resilience and adaptive capacity of ecosystems that have been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. Restoration focuses on establishing the composition, structure, pattern, and ecological processes necessary to make terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems sustainable, resilient, and healthy under current and future conditions.

Why is the Forest Service developing FSM 2020 – Ecological Restoration and Resilience?

The need for ecological restoration is widely recognized, and the Forest Service has conducted restoration-related activities across many programs for decades. However, an internal agency study identified that the concept of ecological restoration has not been well understood nor consistently implemented within the Forest Service.

The Forest Service lacks a foundational, comprehensive policy and definitions to more effectively utilize ecological restoration as a tool for achieving land management objectives on national forests and grasslands.

This directive is needed to provide an overarching and unifying policy and definition of restoration for Forest Service employees and partners to more effectively communicate restoration needs at the local, regional, and national levels—all resource management programs have a responsibility for ecological restoration.

This directive will enable the Forest Service to more effectively address 21st century environmental issues such as climate change, water quality, and increasing threats from wildfires, insects, disease, and invasive species.

What is the goal of ecological restoration?

The goal of ecological restoration is to reestablish and retain the resilience of National Forest System lands and associated resources to achieve sustainable management and provide a broad range of ecosystem services. Healthy and resilient landscapes will have greater capacity to survive natural disturbances and large scale threats to sustainability, especially under changing and uncertain future environmental conditions, such as those driven by climate change and increasing human uses.

The policy makes it clear the Forest Service restoration is aimed not at going back to any point in time, but on restoring resiliency and sustainability. It took a long time to get this policy in place because many folks in the agency feared that the policy would be interpreted as a mandate to return to some point in the past, which a Mark pointed out is not possible. I interpret the policy to mean that where ecosystem conditions can best be restored by doing nothing, then do nothing. Where intervention is needed, then do something. That may mean removing a culvert, killing invasive plants or actively bring fire back to the system. The past loss of fire in southern pine ecosystems is primary reason that most rare species in the South are in trouble– they are adapted to systems with a frequent disturbance regime. Unless we area wiling to accept the loss of many of these species (e.g. the red-cockaded woodpecker), active restoration actions are essential.

Reflecting on Science and the Internet

As reported by the New York Times, climate scientist Michael Mann bemoans the “rise of the Internet as a vehicle for the spread of scientific misinformation.”  In the spirit of Sharon’s “period of reflection” regarding this blog, I offer the following article about his book, not to inflame, but as an opportunity to commend Sharon for her attempts to provide a forum for posters to present scientific facts along with  a wide array of sometimes not so scientific opinions while attempting to keep a clear distinction between the two. Sometimes the debate fostered by NCFP seems poised to devolve into a” shouting match” but usually folks here can agree to disagree. Occasionally I see comments that skirt the margins of Sharon’s no-name-calling rule but I have yet to see a comment (other than spam) that I would refuse to approve.  Maybe they get zapped first by Sharon, or maybe the sort of people who participate here are just inclined to be civil (unlike, apparently, some talk show hosts.)  It certainly takes a special breed to while away one’s spare time debating the finer points of planning the future of our national forests!

A Dispatch From the Barricades

Green: Science

As I noted in a recent article, the debate over climate science has come to resemble other angry battles in the nation’s culture wars. Much as one might dislike the idea of the earth’s future being decided in a shouting match, that seems to be the reality of the situation we are in.

Columbia University Press

That’s how Michael E. Mann puts it in a new book called “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.” Dr. Mann, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University, gives readers an inside look at a string of battles going back to 1999 in which he has played a central role. Many of these center on the famous “hockey stick,” a reconstruction by Dr. Mann and colleagues of the past thousand years of temperatures on the planet, relying on indicators like tree rings.

The graph of reconstructed temperatures is called a hockey stick because the right-hand side shows temperatures veering sharply upward in the last century. The paper and its graph, along with subsequent studies by Dr. Mann and several other scientists, suggest that this recent warming is anomalous, at least over the past millennium. Through no choice of Dr. Mann’s, the graph became a symbol of modern climate science when it was featured prominently in a 2001 report by a United Nations panel.

His book, published by Columbia University Press, is essentially about the drama that ensued after the paper was set upon by climate-change contrarians determined to undermine Dr. Mann’s conclusions. The tale features hearings in Congress, fevered denunciations of climate science as a “hoax,” stolen or leaked e-mails and one investigation after another after another. It also features mainstream scientists and leading scientific journals roused to defend Dr. Mann and the scientific method.

The book is secondarily about something else: the rise of the Internet as a vehicle for the spread of scientific misinformation. As it happens, the years when Dr. Mann was fighting these battles were also the years that public discourse of all kinds moved off the traditional news pages and into cyberspace. That offers enormous possibilities for the advancement of human knowledge, of course, but no informed reader will come away from Dr. Mann’s book feeling very happy about the way it has played out so far.

Michael E. MannAssociated PressMichael E. Mann

Important as the topic may be, I suspect this book will be more useful for insiders already familiar with the players and key events and less so for general readers. Anyone wanting a straightforward, elegantly written overview of the science might prefer Kerry Emanuel’s “What We Know About Climate Change,” which has the merit of being both complete and short. A reader seeking to understand climate politics in Washington might be better advised to pick up Eric Pooley’s “The Climate War.” (Dr. Mann, it turns out, was not the first to use martial language.)

Dr. Mann is focused instead on telling the tale of the hockey stick as he lived it. That is fair enough, but some of the discussion gets pretty arcane, as when he spends many pages on the details of the statistical arguments between him and his critics. It was probably necessary that he do so, but it will be tough going for a reader without much statistical background. Dr. Mann said he hoped that general readers would tackle the book and simply skip the parts they find too technical.

The Mann case exemplifies what to me is one of the central mysteries of climate contrarianism. Dr. Mann’s findings are but a small element in a vast body of scientific research suggesting that human society is running a serious risk with the planet. But many of the contrarians have been obsessed with the hockey stick for a decade, gnawing it over and over as a dog would a bone. They seem to think if they can disprove one small element of climate science, the whole edifice will collapse.

Unfortunately for our future, the findings of modern climate science are a great deal more robust than that. They do not depend on the validity of the hockey stick, as Dr. Mann himself makes clear. Even if they did, climate science would appear to be in pretty good shape: subsequent papers by other researchers with no stake in the original have confirmed his results. Investigations of Dr. Mann and other scientists have led pretty much nowhere, with the latest of them, by an attorney general in Virginia who is a climate contrarian, effectively shut down by that state’s Supreme Court last week.

Still, the climate wars go on, and perhaps they will for as long as the fossil-fuel industry sees political delay as being in its interests.

“The decades of delay in reducing carbon emissions have already incurred a very real cost to humanity and our environment,” Dr. Mann writes. “Each year that emissions reductions are delayed, it becomes increasingly difficult to stabilize CO2 concentrations below safe levels.”

Be Careful What You Wish For

ImageA long time ago I wished for the opportunity to help draft planning rule language. This was important stuff that could influence the management of national forests for years to come. Unfortunately, I got my wish. That particular rule vanished somewhere in the change of administrations. I like to think that it wasn’t all time wasted and that it helped lay the groundwork for future efforts including the current one.

With the release of the FPEIS, the Forest Service seems very close to getting what it has wished for so long. Lately, I have wished for more meaningful discussion on the subject and I seem to have gotten my way here as well. Posters and commenters have been raising a number of interesting questions. Here’s my take on a few.

Didn’t the Forest Service want to replace the old viability standard with something that would be easier to defend in court?

Definitely. NFMA actually doesn’t say anything about viability. Instead, it talks about the “diversity of plant and animal communities.” The 1982 rule established the viability requirement and Management Indicator Species (MIS) as mechanisms for providing adequate diversity. Agency directives further spelled out how the designation of “sensitive species” would help accomplish this. Over time, what all these requirements mean, particularly procedures for monitoring of MIS and Sensitive species has evolved as litigation played out in various courts.

A lot of what evolved doesn’t make very good biological sense and doesn’t do very much to provide for the diversity of plant and animal communities. The ecosystem and fine-filter focused language of the new rule really does make more sense biologically.  The catch is, there’s no case history in the courts yet to help define what it will really take to implement it. A lot of forests have figured out what kind of monitoring for MIS and sensitive species they need to do to be defensible in court.  Some of it may be a waste of time and money but at least it’s a devil they know pretty well. They may not get to know the devil of the new rule until a lot of terminology and language gets better defined by the courts.

Don’t the forests in the East cut more timber than those in the West?

Yup. I haven’t researched the most recent numbers, but a couple of years ago, the Southern Region (R8) harvested more volume than any other Forest Service region.  The national forests in Mississippi and the Ouachita in Arkansas led the pack nationally. Most of this harvest has been thinnings and almost all of it is part of projects designed to restore desired ecological conditions.

Isn’t “restoration” hard to define?

It can be, that’s why the answer to the next question is so important.

Why is collaboration necessary?

The reason that national forests in the South cut so much timber and restore some many acres of wildlife habitat (ultimately “ensuring” viable populations) with so few lawsuits is due to hard work up front to define desired ecological conditions in a collaborative fashion with stakeholders. When projects are viewed as necessary to restore forests to conditions that a large group of people want to see, the need to litigate those projects largely vanishes.

Aren’t there a lot of good reasons for a new rule?

Sure. It’s been a long time since the passage of NFMA. Scientific thought and management approaches have evolved so it makes sense to incorporate this knowledge into a new rule. Is a new rule necessary to write good forest plans and implement projects that provide for the diversity of plant and animal communities? Lots of good examples indicate otherwise.  Will implementing a new rule be easy or straightforward? Certainly not. Will it give us something to talk about? I hope so. Will the Forest Service come to regret getting what it wished for?  Stay tuned.

And now: from The New York Times (Media Watch #3)

VilsackJanuary 27, 2012, 10:07 am
How to Manage U.S. Forests, Version 3.1

In the high-tech world, new versions of programs are released to fix new bugs. In the federal regulatory world, new versions of management blueprints are released to address legal problems. Each is generally judged by a simple metric: did the fixes work, or will they have to be redone?

By that standard, efforts to update a land management planning rule for the National Forest System have not exactly been a success.

The Bush Administration’s attempt to overhaul it were rejected by a federal judge who said it did not provide adequate safeguards for flora and fauna. When the Obama administration unveiled its first attempt at adjusting the rule 11 months ago, environmentalists criticized it as weak in terms of protecting water purity and biodiversity. So on Thursday, the administration released “a new version.

The rule, a broad blueprint to be followed by individual forest supervisors — many of whom are working with 15-year-old planning documents at the moment — is likely to become final within five weeks.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is in charge of the Forest Service, struck a conciliatory note in a conference call Thursday, saying that wide public participation will be crucial to the success of future forest management. He said that the revised rules focused on restoring the ecological health of forests and watersheds, particularly conserving and improving the quality of freshwater in the forests.

Noting that 20 percent of Americans drink water that comes from national forests, Mr. Vilsack said that management of the watersheds would be based on the “best available science.”

He and the chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, also emphasized a desire to ensure that the forests are open to all uses, including timber harvesting and recreation.. With the new rule and a greater emphasis on cooperative planning with various interest groups, Mr. Tidwell said, plans governing individual forest plants could be written twice as fast — in three or four years, as opposed to the current five, six or seven.

Forest policy is a difficult arena. It’s not just that the forests face natural challenges like invasive beetles or fierce wildfires, challenges exacerbated by climate change. Managing the forests can pit timber harvesters against environmentalists in clashes like the drawn-out one over the northern spotted owl two decades ago.

The point that Mr. Vilsack repeatedly made echoed a line from President Obama’s State of the Union address. He said he wanted a forest-based economy “built to last.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice offered guarded praise for the Forest Service’s intentions. “It’s a smart bunch of public-minded people” at work, said Niel Lawrence, a forest expert at the N.R.D.C., and they “are trying to produce a durable rule that will work.They get high marks for their vision of protection and restoration of federal forests.”

Then came the big “but.” The rule contains a small change in wording that he said would weaken a former requirement on keeping widely distributed populations of local plants and animals in a forest. “These rules are set up to allow the agency actively to squeeze wildlife out,” he said. “That’s a recipe for a wildlife zoo, not a healthy ecosystem.” He called the language “a loophole that threatens to undo all their good work.”

Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice took a similar tone: some great ideas here, but problems remain. Her concern was that the section on protecting animals gave too much flexibility to forest managers.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, said in a statement: “We hope that ecological, social and economic objectives are given equal weight in planning so that all of the needs of our citizens will be met by our federal forests.

Planning Rule Opinion Boxscore (cont.)

5. Concerns about flexible managers
Earth Justice

6. Hopes for an equilateral triangle
American Forest Council

7. High marks for vision BUT oh those loopholes

Climate Change Strategy

Thanks to the Wildlife Society for providing the following. There are 16 Federal agencies on the steering committee and I assume that USDA is one of those.

Obama proposal battles climate change impact on wildlife

Western Farm Press
In partnership with state, tribal, and federal agency partners, the Obama administration released the first draft national strategy to help decision makers and resource managers prepare for and help reduce the impacts of climate change on species, ecosystems, and the people and economies that depend on them. MORE

Scientific Integrity on the Range

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has filed a scientific integrity complaint with the Department of Interior. DOI issued rules for maintaining scientific integrity back in January of this year.

I wonder how the Forest Service would fare if it proposed to do in depth assessments of ecological conditions on national forests without considering the effects of grazing?
For Immediate Release: November 30, 2011
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

GRAZING PUNTED FROM FEDERAL STUDY OF LAND CHANGES IN WEST — Scientists Told to Not Consider Grazing Due to Fear of Lawsuits and Data Gaps

Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is carrying out an ambitious plan to map ecological trends throughout the Western U.S. but has directed scientists to exclude livestock grazing as a possible factor in changing landscapes, according to a scientific integrity complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint describes how one of the biggest scientific studies ever undertaken by BLM was fatally skewed from its inception by political pressure.

Funded with up to $40 million of stimulus funds, BLM is conducting Rapid Ecoregional Assessments in each of the six main regions (such as the Colorado Plateau and the Northern Great Plains) covering the vast sagebrush West. A key task was choosing the “change agents” (such as fire or invasive species) which would be studied. Yet when the scientific teams were assembled at an August 2010 workshop, BLM managers informed them that grazing would not be studied due to anxiety from “stakeholders,” fear of litigation and, most perplexing of all, lack of available data on grazing impacts.

Exclusion of grazing was met with protests from the scientists. Livestock grazing is permitted on two-thirds of all BLM lands, with 21,000 grazing allotments covering 157 million acres across the West. As one participating scientist said, as quoted in workshop minutes:

“We will be laughed out of the room if we don’t use grazing. If you have the other range of disturbances, you have to include grazing.”

In the face of this reaction, BLM initially deferred a decision but ultimately opted to –

Remove livestock grazing from all Ecoregional assessments, citing insufficient data. As a result, the assessments do not consider massive grazing impacts even though trivial disturbance factors such as rock hounding are included; and
Limit consideration of grazing-related information only when combined in an undifferentiated lump with other native and introduced ungulates (such as deer, elk, wild horses and feral donkeys).

“This is one of the screwiest things I have ever heard of. BLM is taking the peculiar position that it can no longer distinguish the landscape imprint of antelope from that of herds of cattle,” remarked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting BLM has far more data on grazing than it does on other change agents, such as climate change or urban sprawl, that it chose to follow. “Grazing is one of the few ‘change agents’ within the agency’s mandate to manage, suggesting that BLM only wants analysis on what it cannot control.”

Earlier this year, the Interior Department, parent agency for BLM, adopted its first scientific integrity policies prohibiting political interference with, or manipulation of, scientific work. The PEER complaint charges that BLM officials improperly compromised the utility and validity of the Ecoregional assessments for reasons that lacked any technical merit and urges that responsible officials be disciplined.

“This is like the Weather Service saying it will no longer track storms because it lacks perfect information,” added Ruch, pointing out that an extensive formalized Land Health Assessment database, including range-wide assessments of livestock grazing across the sagebrush biome, has existed since at least 2008. “If grazing can be locked so blithely into a scientific broom closet, it speaks volumes about science-based decisionmaking in the Obama administration.”

A North Woods National Forest?

Debate over the creation of a new national park in Northern Maine rages on. Well, maybe not exactly rages, but there’s no lack of discussion and opinions. An opinion piece in the Maine Sunday Telegram suggests that a new national forest might make more sense. The White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and western Maine is cited as an example of balancing preservation with multiple use. However, some Mainers oppose any additional Federal control and Burt’s Bees magnate Roxanne Quimby , at least for now, is willing to donate land only if it is for a new National Park. Residents in the Millinocket area are split. Some see a park as a way to inject vitality into a sagging economy. Others see Federal land ownership as a threat to the region’s two paper mills (just recently reopened) and as potentially undermining the long tradition of commercial logging and public recreation on private lands. Still others would like to see a broader study of the region’s economy.

October 9
John Bell of Weld teaches high school English.

Maine Voices: Park not only way to save North Woods
Establishing a Maine Woods National Forest would achieve many goals for preservation, recreation and industry.

WELD — Conspicuously absent from current debate over the fate of Maine’s North Woods has been mention of national forest designation for some portion of 10 million acres of unorganized territory. A national forest would achieve the same ends as a national park, and is better suited to northern Maine in a number of ways.

The debate about the future of Maine’s forests has needlessly pitted environmental concerns against the interests of the people who need to make a living. Forests and parks are similar, with one major difference between them: National parks allow no timber harvesting; strict preservation is the rule. National forests allow for sustainable logging activity, managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Both feature federal ownership, and each has a recreational mission that allows for multiple uses within certain bounds. What both manage to secure is the protection of wild land, and the preservation into perpetuity of public access to it.

A long-standing and cherished tradition in Maine, our access to the woods is at present threatened as never before. An unprecedented pattern of anonymous, absentee and mercenary ownership has settled over the North Woods in recent years; none of Maine’s remaining paper companies owns any portion of the forest anymore.

Seven million acres have changed hands since the late 1980s — the last to divest was Mead in 2005 — and the new owners are aware that there are quicker means to a return on their investment than waiting for trees to grow. Witness Plum Creek’s massive development proposal for the Moosehead Lake region.
Development in the North Woods is the looming threat these days; vacation-home building means fragmentation of the forest, with attendant damage to its ecology, diversity and resiliency. Public access will also be lost. If one accepts the premise that something needs to be done — on a broad scale and soon — to safeguard both the integrity of the forest and the public’s access to it, then the question becomes one of how best to accomplish this.

Conservation easements, though effective in their own right, are inadequate and piecemeal. The state of Maine is in no position to purchase extensive tracts. Federal ownership remains the best way to achieve large-scale and permanent protection of Maine’s forest lands. Those with an aversion to a federal presence in the Maine woods would like even less their own permanent exclusion from it someday.

RESTORE’s protracted campaign for a 3-million-acre Maine Woods National Park stretching from Moosehead to beyond Katahdin has yet to generate enthusiasm among the people who live in the northern counties. It has succeeded only in alienating those it needs to win over, through an implicit and explicit denigration of North Woods culture — of traditional modes of vocation and of recreation. National park promotional rhetoric has been rife with elitist assumptions and insinuations, chief among them that logging is somehow morally wrong.

It is not oversimplification to observe that it is precisely this aspect of the national park campaign — waged by outsiders, for the most part — that has engendered widespread resentment rather than receptivity, and it is precisely because national forests allow logging that any mention of this option has been scrupulously avoided by mainstream environmental organizations.

It seems appropriate and just that the people who live within and adjacent to the region in question might see a federal designation that would represent a respect for their traditions, rather than a contempt for them.

The rationale for a national forest goes well beyond this consideration of social justice and regional identity, however. Silviculture — the science of carefully considered manipulation of the successional stages of a forest — can enhance the entire ecosystem and render it both more resilient and more diverse. (A forest is not necessarily better off left alone; the wildfires in Yellowstone after 100 years without tree harvesting come to mind.)

The nearby White Mountain National Forest is a widely popular destination for millions of outdoor enthusiasts and an economic boon to the region that invigorates traditional economic sectors as well as those of modern ecotourism.

Thirty-five percent of its 800,000 acres is open to logging; extensive environmental review and public comment precede any instance of timber harvest.
Maintaining a carefully managed balance between strict preservation and multiple, responsible use, the White Mountain National Forest works quite well.

A national forest represents a good compromise — certainly not in any sense of abandoning principle, but in the democratic sense of how Americans accomplish things: by meeting on common ground. While we argue self-righteously, Wall Street does not sleep. There is no time to waste.

– Special to the Telegram

Is Biocoal the Answer?

biocoalA recent Bangor Daily News article (here) discusses how the new owners of two paper mills in Millinocket, Maine plan to use this technology to convert wood waste into torrefied wood also known as biocoal. Proponents tout the technology as carbon neutral if waste material is used as the source for the process.

Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 01, 2011, at 12:56 p.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Cate Street Capital has purchased for more than $20 million the North American rights to the technology to manufacture biocoal, a huge step toward adding the production of treated wood at its Katahdin Avenue paper mill and creating several hundred jobs, officials said Thursday.
Cate Street subsidiary Thermogen Industries LLC secured exclusive rights from Scotland-based Rotawave Biocoal to manufacture a type of machine — called Targeted Intelligent Energy System, or TIES — that makes biocoal, or torrefied wood, which would replace coal burned at electricity plants, Cate Street spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said.

“It is the most tangible sign of our commitment to moving this project forward,” Tranchemontagne said Thursday of the $20 million deal. “We have the technology. We have a wonderful site at the end of the Golden Road and we have a labor force that is ready and willing to work. Those are some key pieces to any business looking to start up.”

If Thermogen’s plans reach fruition, Cate Street senior vice president Richard Cyr said, Thermogen’s production of biocoal would help transform the state forest products industry.
Thermogen and Cate Street subsidiary Great Northern Paper Co., which operates the East Millinocket and Millinocket paper mills, would also benefit from several independent and ongoing governmental and private business initiatives.

Those initiatives include the $10.5 million reconstruction of 233 miles of northern Maine railroad tracks, the expansion of the shipping port in Searsport, Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to extend a natural gas line to the Katahdin region by 2013, and Cate Street’s own revitalization of the mills.

By acquiring the rights to TIES, Rotawave Biocoal’s microwave-based biocoal production system, Thermogen has solidified plans to install five or six TIES machines in Millinocket starting in November 2012. Creating jobs for 22 to 25 workers directly and dozens of truckers, loggers and other support providers indirectly, the first $35 million TIES machine would supply United Kingdom utilities with biocoal, Cyr said.

Millinocket would be the site of the first of four or five biocoal mills eventually nationwide, Cyr said. Rotawave’s attempt to sell its technology rights to a Vancouver company that would have built a biocoal factory in British Columbia last year fell through, he said.

“We have been looking for a home for Thermogen for two years. Over that time we have been studying a lot of technologies,” Cyr said, calling Rotawave’s “the one that created the best end product.”

Engineers are developing plans now to site the machines at the Millinocket mill as Cate Street assembles its financing and seeks engineers to build the Rotawave machines, Cyr said. Cate Street hopes to have the design and financing ready within four months, with mill site work possibly beginning then as well, Tranchemontagne said.