Deep in California, in the Sierra National Forest, there are more dead trees than live ones. And figuring out what do with them is a towering task.
Forest Supervisor Dean Gould sees the evidence every day of the state’s massive tree die-off, a crisis that’s claimed more than 102-million trees over eight million acres in the past seven years.
“It’s unprecedented. A whole variety of conditions had to happen simultaneously and they did,” Gould said.
The biggest culprit: a severe drought, which left the trees vulnerable to beetles.
And all those dead trees are creating other concerns. “Now we have a lot of fuel on the ground,” Gould explained.
He says while many dead trees in remote areas will be left in place to decay, tens of millions of others that could topple onto roads and power lines or clog paths for firefighters, or fuel fires, have to go.
“If it’s in a highly accessible area, we want to get it down.”
Most of the dead trees are being trucked to biomass plants where organic matter is turned into energy.
At the Rio Bravo Rocklin Biomass plant in Placer County, plant manager Chris Quijano says his plant receives between 25 and 40 truckloads of California’s dead trees each day.
“It’s pretty available to us right now. It’s good fuel for the plant,” Quijano said.
“We take that woody waste material and put it in a boiler,” Quijano explained. He says the flame generates heat, which generates steam, which creates electricity.
Biomass is considered a renewable energy source, because plants can be replaced with new growth. Burning biomass releases carbon emissions.
California’s Tree Die-Off Gives Life to New Business, by Christin Ayers, KPIX, September 24, 2017.