Says products could pay for forest thinning
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The Bush administration said Thursday it hopes turning small trees and brush into ethanol, methanol and other energy products will eventually help pay for thinning national forests to reduce the danger of wildfire.
Paying for thinning 28 million acres of Western forests considered at high risk for wildfire has been a problem, because the small trees and brush that need to be removed aren't big enough for traditional lumber.
Thinning costs between $250 and $1,000 an acre. Many of the forests are too overstocked to use the cheapest method, prescribed fire, without removing small trees and brush first. Harvesting larger trees to pay for the work leads to lawsuits.
"Our hope is the advances in research into the utilization of small-diameter and other woody biomass combined with the stability provided by longer-term contracts will allow for a new infrastructure, creation of new facilities, new economic opportunities and new jobs as we restore healthy forests," Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said from Washington, D.C.
Potential products include laminated lumber, wood chips for structural panels, ethanol and methanol, and fuel for wood-fired power plants, Rey said.
At least one ethanol project has already been proposed. Western Biomass Fuels of South Dakota wants to build a $30 million plant in Wyoming to produce ethanol from wood thinned from the nearby Black Hills National Forest.
Generally made from corn, ethanol is added to gasoline to make it burn more cleanly. Methanol is used in fuel cells and as a substitute for gasoline. It is made most economically from natural gas, though it can be extracted from wood and coal.