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Minnesota Study Finds Potential Benefits from Forest Biomass

June 19, 2008

Minneapolis, MN - Harvesting biomass - the shrubs, small trees and branches in a forest - can reduce fire prevention and management costs, offer work for loggers and provide "fuel" for renewable energy, according to new research performed in Minnesota.

Don Arnosti, forest program director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says biomass typically is considered scrap material, without commercial value. But today's keen interest in renewable energy may provide a new market, as power plants seek cleaner substances to burn in lieu of coal or other polluting fuels.

"Harvesting biomass provides us with, not only material for renewable energy production, but it also reduces fire hazards and can improve ecological health in certain types of forests that need to have excess vegetation removed."

The traditional way of reducing fire risk is to thin forests, Arnosti explains, but this new approach seems to offer an opportunity for protection, while letting trees grow and producing some monetary benefit for landowners.

"The study found that biomass could be harvested from our state forests in a manner that sustains our environment and reduces the traditional cost of fire prevention thinning. So, what we found is that biomass harvesting can be done on a sustainable basis, while helping to achieve fire hazard reductions in our forest."

While the research took place in northeast Minnesota, Arnosti feels the results could have applications nationwide as states seek solutions to global warming. The study was conducted in nine test areas in the Superior National Forest. More information is available online at www.forestrycenter.org.

Jim Wishner/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MN