Economics and Logistics of Biomass Utilization in the Superior National Forest
Forest fires pose a great risk to nearby communities and dwellings. Many forest managers work to reduce such risks by managing fuels. This article explains the economic and logistical factors of a forest biomass utilization option instead of the conventional disposal method of on-site piling and burning for fuel reduction. Benefits from biomass utilization are multiple and include reduced impacts to air quality, improved forest health, economic opportunities, local renewable energy production, and climate change mitigation. Trials in the Superior National Forest examined the feasibility of using conventional equipment to extract and utilize forest biomass compared with disposal of biomass with pile and burn techniques. Factors that increase the costs of biomass utilization include: machinery down-time, distance to end users, low biomass price, size of the harvest unit, forwarding distance, the number of machines hauled to sites to complete small-sized operations, the modest amount of biomass removed per acre and applying prescriptions that were not designed for extraction logistics. Interviews with forest machine operators during and after the trials helped clarify factors and logistics considerations, which could be applied to help reduce the cost of future operations.