The U.S. Department of Agriculture is wasting $10 million dollars trying to apply a crop-based biomass utilization model to our rugged and remote National Forests! While Cool Planet Energy Systems' turning of farm waste into gasoline and biochar may have merit, it does not apply well to dead trees on remote public lands.
In a recent article, Montana State University's Peter Kolb gets it wrong by calling dead trees "carbon waste." Dead trees are not corn stalks. They continue playing a crucial role in maintaining forest ecosystems, from providing critical wildlife habitats to returning carbon and nutrients to the forest soil. While Kolb points out the economic problems of getting dead trees to a biomass facility, he wrongly implies that ecological concerns are merely "policy issues" to be overcome.
Cool Planet's website indicates that, by applying heat to biomass in the absence of oxygen, one-third of the carbon is released into the air, one-third is bottled up in biofuels, and one-third is sequestered in biochar returned to the soil. Cool Planet claims its process is "carbon negative" and implies the more we drive our cars using its biofuels, the more we are helping cool the planet—by essentially burying its plant life as biochar.
Last November, 41 scientists warned the Environmental Protection Agency that using trees as biomass energy is harmful and quite different than using farm crop waste. In October, 250 scientists told Congress dead trees in burned forests are "one of the most ecologically important and biodiverse habitat types in western conifer forests."
How much of USDA's $10 million will go to scientists finding forest ecosystems are capable of recycling their own carbon? How much will go to silence them as massive federal subsidies are created to grind those ecosystems up?
Swan View Coalition
In last week’s edition of the Indy you mention that Max Baucus is heading to his appointment as ambassador to China “where the beer is weak and the stakes are high” (see “etc.,” Dec. 26). I’ve gotten lit up, not really intentionally, on Chinese beer while partying in Beijing’s Super Bar District. Chinese beer is based on German lagers but don’t let the pale color fool you. The brand that Max will likely be drinking is Yanjing, which has an alcohol content of 5 percent. That’s higher than most American mass-produced brands.
China has a proud tradition of boozing that rivals Egypt’s. Mr. Baucus will likely be doing a lot of toasting, called “ganbei,” at official events or on casual outings with friends. You leap to your feet, holding a pretty little shot glass of hard Chinese liquor between your fingertips and direct it at the toastee. He/she too stands up and it’s bottoms-up for both of you. This goes on all night.
Enjoy that Chinese beer, Mr. Baucus. I’m getting thirsty writing this.
In 2012, two-thirds of the continental United States was affected by drought.
The losses were staggering: $30 billion to agriculture alone and far more when you add the damages to water supplies, tourism, transportation and near-shore fisheries. Fighting drought-related wildfires tacked on another $1 billion.
“Last year, the worst drought in generations devastated farms and ranches across the nation,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said earlier this fall. “But our work isn’t done and we can always better prepare for the future.”
Drought will likely be an issue for the foreseeable future. A recent article in Scientific American magazine, for example, pointed out the similarities between conditions in the American Southwest and those in Australia before that country’s devastating 10-year Millennial Drought.
In response to requests from communities, businesses and farmers and ranchers around the country, the federal government recently announced the National Drought Resilience Partnership. It’s an effort to streamline access to federal agency drought recovery resources and provide information about conditions, among other tasks. But there is much that local governments, nonprofits and community water-based organizations can do to prepare for, mitigate and recover from the effects of drought.
With that in mind the National Center for Appropriate Technology is developing the Drought Relief Corps, a program designed to apply the energy of the nation’s youth to the issue. Similar to the AmeriCorps programs FoodCorps and EnergyCorps that NCAT has developed and managed for years, DRC will match well-qualified members with host organizations.
Together, the host organizations and DRC members will design and carry out drought plans tailored for the area, with support and training from NCAT.
You can help your community prepare. For more information about DRC and becoming a partnering organization, go online at drought.ncat.org or call Carl Little at 406-494-4572.
National Center for Appropriate Technology
This year I have had the honor of serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America alleviating poverty in Montana. My position has been with the S.A.V.E. Foundation in Helena. I have had the opportunity to build community through partnerships and engagements in public transit and accessible biking and walking. In this role, I experienced how essential these aspects are to everyone’s ability to be part of a healthy community, not just those with the greatest needs who VISTAs serve most.
My experience has revealed how public transportation is essential in empowering our growing senior population to age-in-place, as they become unable to drive. As Montana continues to grow, transit will be helpful for spending less time in traffic and more in the mountains.
I have seen that bikes are not just for the fearless and the brave cyclists, but also as means of genuine transportation for children to get to school and people’s ability to stay fit.
I’d like to thank this community and all the VISTAs serving across the state. I encourage any recent college graduate to spend a year serving America, especially in Montana.
Hiking up to the dam we crawled over or ducked under some deadfalls, but these needed only to be cut with crosscut saws as a matter of routine trail maintenance for both horses and people to pass easily. At no point did we see switchbacks that would have been impossible for horses to negotiate, as the Forest Service maintained, and for sure there seemed no need for dynamite to “widen the trail,” as they also claimed. We also observed manure all along the trail up very close to the dam itself, so clearly some horses were able to make it up there fairly recently, as we figured nobody would helicopter in manure.
Later we read Renee Morley’s letter to the Independent (July 18) in which Morley agreed, as just about everybody does, that “unnecessary helicopter flights are detrimental to Wilderness and degrade the law.” Then Morley reversed course and let the Forest Service off the hook due to their lack of funds to maintain trails so that horses can pass. Still later we learned that the Forest Service had spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on an Environmental Assessment required by Fred Burr High Lake Inc.’s 2010 request for use of a helicopter in Wilderness. This expenditure wouldn’t have been necessary had the Forest Service simply insisted in the first place that the corporation, which owns the dam and water rights, obey the Wilderness Act. This would require either packing in repair materials or using on-site materials, as had been done in the past. More importantly, it raises the serious question of why the Forest Service is spending taxpayers’ money to analyze a private company’s project on its private dam?
Now the Forest Service is having to spend more of our taxpayer money to defend against litigation brought against them for failing to uphold the law. Since these funds, which Congress appropriates to the Forest Service to manage Wilderness, are being wasted, maybe that’s why there’s not enough money left to hire crews to maintain the hiking trails in Wilderness or to build new trails, which was not the case in the past.The Wilderness Act of 1964 (we will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year) is very clear about prohibiting any motorized equipment such as helicopters in Wilderness whatsoever except for rare life and death rescue situations. This principle is fundamental to the very concept of Wilderness, which we are lucky enough to have around us in all directions here in Missoula. Maybe the Forest Service needs to take another look at the law and spend our taxpayer money more wisely. That could go a long way towards untangling the so-called “dam dilemmas” throughout Wilderness.
In case you missed her piece, “Rough estimates hold that approximately 11 percent of any given homeless population is chronically homeless. Though not representative of the working poor and single mothers that compose the vast majority of people living on the streets, in cars and area encampments, the chronically homeless often suffer from addiction problems and, as such, consume 50 percent or more of all resources dedicated to helping the houseless.”
As someone who has long worked in this area, I am enormously impressed and appreciative. We don’t see it often. It is a fine example of truly responsible journalism.
State Rep. Ellie Hill Missoula
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