The Environmental Committee works to protect the watershed and to educate the public on forestry issues, erosion control, hazardous waste, recycling, and other issues. We also monitor government policies and procedures.
PG&E is a high priority for the Environmental Committee due to its massive and destructive felling of trees to prevent wildfires when unsafe, unreliable, antiquated equipment is the fundamental cause of the fires. From working on legislation and a new Franchise Agreement for PG&E in the County to in-depth research and analysis to support work with agencies affecting PG&E and helping folks protect their trees from PG&E’s contractors, this keeps the group busy. We work with a State-wide Utility Wildfire Prevention Taskforce on these issues.
Your help is needed.
Visit https://endpowerlinefires.com for more information.
River & Road Clean Up
with Save Our Shores
Annual Environmental Town Hall
Felton Community Hall
First Saturday of the month
Second Saturday if the first Saturday is a holiday weekend.
10:30 am at VWC Office at Highlands Park Senior Center
On Zoom and in-person. Email for Zoom info.
Meetings are open to the public.
Call 338-6578 or email for information.
By Kristen Sandel, Environmental Committee
With California’s push for renewable energy sources (despite recent court rulings against Berkeley’s natural gas ban and CPUC decisions hampering rooftop solar), woody or forest biomass has become a focal industry, raising serious concerns among environmental advocates. Legislation facilitating the commercial use of forest biomass ‘waste’, and wood pellet production plants such as those proposed by Golden State Natural Resources are part of this trend, with GSNR facilities slated to be built in Tuolumne and Lassen counties and projected to consume nearly two million green tons annually (Golden State Natural Resources’ Biomass Boondoggle).
Forest biomass is not a ‘renewable’ source of energy in the way that solar and wind are renewables, nor is it clean. Per unit of energy, it produces more emissions than coal. Presenting woody biomass as an environmentally neutral energy source is misleading, as is its promotion as a wildfire risk reduction tool, using the ‘byproducts’ of forest-thinning for energy generation. Conservationists point out that these industries are likely to stimulate more tree felling and worsen the effects of climate change.
Wood pellet production often uses whole tree trunks and energy-dense core wood, which are easier to stock in large quantities (“Waste Wood” For Bioenergy Use Is Misleading). This means logging mature, healthy trees and causing significant ecological damage, including eroding soil with heavy equipment and logging road construction, a higher risk of wind-thrown trees in the remaining forest, and the suppression of healthy regrowth. Nor is it an effective form of wildfire reduction, as thinned forests are more vulnerable to wind-driven fires moving at high speed through cleared ‘wind tunnels’.
Trees burned for biomass energy immediately release all of their sequestered carbon into the atmosphere, requiring many decades of new growth to recapture, and the loss of forest carbon sequestration and storage in the interval. Transporting biomass materials by fossil-fuel vehicles for processing is another source of carbon emissions, as is export and shipping of the finished products. Small woody debris not used for pellets may be used instead to power pellet-production facilities, further stripping the forest ecosystem of materials which would, if left undisturbed, decompose into new soil, retaining moisture and supplying nutrients for regrowth.
Forest biomass energy creates a ‘greenwashed’ market for harvesting trees, of any size–just when we most need them to remain in the forest. This is not sustainable energy, and it isn’t wildfire risk reduction. This is logging under another name.
Healthy forests contain diverse plant species at every stage of growth, decline and death, providing foraging and nesting sites for a wide variety of wildlife, including species dependent on snags and fallen trees. Competition for resources ensures a range of differently sized and aged plants, in a constantly shifting and rebalanced cycle. All of these natural processes are degraded in a logged and replanted area. Post-logging grid replanting, often done after herbicide application, results in a more dense forest of young, less fire-resistant trees and monoculture plantations of marketable species, further diminishing biodiversity and genetic resilience.
Post-fire salvage logging is another highly destructive process being presented as part of fire ‘recovery’. Because burned trees, whether dead or surviving, have a limited window in which they can be processed for use, there is a strong financial incentive to begin cutting very soon after a wildfire, as we saw after the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.
This means cutting logging roads and bringing heavy equipment into fire-damaged areas during the most fragile period of early recovery. Clearing destroys seeds (including serotinous species which may only release seeds post-fire, and pyrophytes like coast redwoods, adapted to survive fire), introduces non-native invasive seeds on equipment tire treads, and removes remaining habitat for returning wildlife. Burned soil is scraped and compressed, disrupting mycorrhizal networks and soil biomes (the delicate fungal systems beneath the soil surface, most often mutualistic and beneficial). Runoff into streams and waterways, stream choking, fishkill, and the loss of riparian habitat may also occur.
Promoting and subsidizing forest biomass for energy incentivizes the commercial use of forestlands for profit, fails to protect these critical natural resources, and mischaracterizes biomass as an environmentally neutral, ‘green’ industry.
The Valley Women’s Club has long supported and worked towards more robust forest protections, in partnership with many other environmental groups, advocates and organizations; among them, Sierra Club California’s State Forest Committee is currently preparing a resolution strongly opposing any form of energy production utilizing forest materials.
(Note: this article refers only to forest biomass, not biomass derived from agricultural materials.)