Cal Fire targets glut of timber in state’s forests
Wildfires leave a tremendous amount of wood on the ground, and forest thinning produces even more. Despite that surplus of timber in California’s forests, Cal Fire says more than 80% of the wood used in the state is imported.
To help remedy the issue, Cal Fire Forester John McCarthy said the agency is providing financial incentives to increase capacity in wood products industries.
“Some of the companies are just traditional wood products,” McCarthy said. “Sawmills that are bottled with [burned] logs right now … they’re decked and they can’t mill them fast enough. We’re helping them upgrade some of their machinery.”
Cal Fire is also working with nontraditional wood products companies, he said, including some that develop transportation fuels and carbon negative products.
To remove any sort of significant amount of wood from the state’s forests, McCarthy said the entire supply chain needs to be expanded. To help move toward that goal, he said the agency has awarded $33 million in grants to businesses, nonprofits, universities, community colleges, and local governments.
“We’re really trying to build an entire industry,” McCarthy said. “There isn’t one gap we’re trying to plug; we need the workforce, the equipment in the woods, trucks, truck drivers, transportation systems, facilities … and trying to bring in entrepreneurs.”
There are some impediments to overcome, McCarthy said, including difficulties in starting new businesses in California and getting new facilities permitted.
After being asked about environmental concerns some people might have about expanding logging operations in California forests, McCarthy said that the state has a rigorous regulatory regime, and some of the strictest forest management practices in the world.
According to Cal Fire, extracting wood that would otherwise release carbon into the atmosphere through the process of decaying or being burned in open piles, will instead have net positive environmental effects. Also, wood products sequester carbon and can replace nonrenewable building materials like concrete and steel.
McCarthy said there’s plenty of demand for the more than 750,000 tons of biomass that would otherwise stay in the forest, it’s just a matter of getting it to market.