In California alone, approximately 13 million acres of forest are at extreme fire risk mostly from poor forest management. As you obviously well know, the fires are generated because there is too much fuel on the ground due to 100 years of fire suppression. Our Living Forests design is based upon removing the excess fuel and converting this biomass, which is largely composed of small diameter timber and brush, into a series of marketable renewable wood based products. Currently California wood has a relatively low market value and existing mills have years of backlog clearing dead trees. However, if we focus on converting this low-value material into structural sheeting, beams and other high-value manufactured wood products, we can generate a new industry based on renewable local wood resources. The technologies are already proven and in place in Europe, where there are literally dozens of major plants in operation, also in Canada and beginning to take shape in Oregon
Our Living Forests work makes a simple argument for California. If California becomes the first ecologically informed wood-based economy then the following beneficial outcomes become available
- Healthy forests created through ecologically appropriate thinning processes now well-developed scientifically are: more productive, have improved wildlife habitat, biodiversity, water retention, are more resistant to disease and other stresses even as the temperatures rise.
- Environmental forest restructuring has two additional massive benefits: First, thinned forests have many open areas that combined with the reduction in small diameter overgrowth means virtually eliminating devastating crown fires. This reduces the nearly $1.5 billion California spends every year fighting fires. Second, easily controlled ground fires are returned to the ecosystem to perform their critical role in maintaining forest health.
- All this has been scientifically analyzed over decades of research at the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Field Station, whom we work closely with. They are currently implementing these practices on the ground. Their pilot project has brought groups together that are usually in opposition such as loggers and environmentalists. Their processes of forest treatment are ecologically advanced and are being rigorously monitored. 2500 acres have been successfully processed.
- So what stands in the way? Old ways of thinking. Regulations tuned to construction systems. Moreover, black timber given by the states at almost no cost consumes the production capacities of mills, which becomes a negative feedback loop leading to more forest fires and more black timber choking mill capacities. This also does not account for the scientific argument that leaving a percentage of black lumber in place benefits forest health.
- All this changes if California chooses to create regulations, tax codes and publicity directed toward becoming the first state, or even the first large governing body, to reframe how an ecologically informed wood-based economy can function on a large scale.
- Is it worth it? It costs about $1,000/acre to thin, so it would cost roughly 1 billion dollars to thin 1 million acres. In the first years of the process the financing might reach 2.5 billion dollars a year. That is, 1.5 billion in combating fires and 1 billion for thinning. However, over the first four or five years the costs of fighting fire would dramatically reduce and in the 10- 12 year range would virtually disappear. If California successfully re-structures the timber industry for engineered wood from small timber, much of that thinning cost is borne by business rather than government.
- Furthermore 20-40 story wood buildings store massive amounts of carbon. Using wood products would substantially reduce the carbon impact of two of the most polluting industries on the planet, concrete and steel. On top of that, carbon is stored in the living (unburned) forests, or in wood buildings in gigaton amounts. If this was widely adopted it would be enough to potentially affect the global warming curve.
- Another key benefit of restructuring this industry is that if harvest and production are dispersed rather than centralized, small rural communities, currently in the political spotlight, gain significant entirely sustainable long-term economic opportunities.
- Bringing this all together the Living Forests group has invented a concept we call Whole Systems Sites, where rural communities in dispersed production and manufacturing sites take responsibility for large selected forest areas in the 100,000 acre range. In the short term overproduction of small timber is the principle harvest, in the long term the forests produce mature lumber that can be sustainably harvested in ways beneficial to forest health.
- Furthermore, the work of maintaining the forest while at the same time living well from its abundance becomes meaningful and satisfying work for those involved. The people required for a functioning Whole System Site would not only be small rural communities made of local often indigenous peoples, but craftsmen, loggers, scientists, designers, and the whole system of trade that is the outcome from this kind of transformation.
Newton Harrison, Founding Director
Josh Harrison, Co-Director
Helen Harrison, Director Emeritus
3D Printed Wood is our innovation. Saving forests is our mission.Forust
Finance: Blue Forest Resilience Bonds
…forests, like many other natural resources, often do not receive the investment needed to face society’s growing environmental challenges.
Private capital can and should play a role in building a more sustainable future. We just have to give investors the tools.Blue Forest Conservation