Reducing Hazardous Fuels to Improve Forest Health

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    Reducing Hazardous Fuels to Improve Forest Health

    Megan Dettenmaier, Darren McAvoy, Lauren Dupéy, and Michael Kuhns

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    hazardous fuels to improve foresth health situation

    In the United States, the 2017 fire season was the most expensive in history with costs exceeding $2 billion. Because of fire suppression activities and land use changes, many trees, such as pinyon-juniper, have
    expanded their range in Utah and as a result, increased fire risk and decreased forest health.
    An increasingly large number of people live at the wildland urban interface, which highlights the wildfire risks
    posed to private and public infrastructure. If no action is taken to reduce the fuel loads currently accumulating
    in Utah forests, the costs and risks associated with fighting wildfires will increase, pest invasions may intensify
    because pests easily travel through dense forests, and as a result, general forest health will decline.

    USU Extension Response

    USU Forestry Extension demonstrates how to use innovative, low-cost, low-tech, metal kilns to
    reduce hazardous fuel loads, thin unhealthy forests, and make biochar in Utah forests.
    USU commissioned the construction of four metal kilns as the basis of a DIY biochar workshop
    conducted by a biochar expert to demonstrate how to make biochar. This demonstration provided
    hands-on experience for 40 public and private individuals. Traditionally slash/burn piles are used
    to dispose of waste wood in the forest, but this technique contains the fire in a kiln, protects the
    soil because the contact with the fire is buffered by the box, improves forest health by facilitating
    thinning operations for unhealthy and/or densely growing trees, and creates a valuable product
    (biochar). Workshop attendees learned how to load, maintain, and quench biochar in a metal kiln,
    and apply biochar (as a soil amendment) to the forest. Outputs from this project include biochar,
    reduction in forest fuels, and in the long-run, healthier forests.


    USU response to hazardous fuels to improve forest health


    Since the DIY biochar workshop, the 4 commissioned kilns have been used to reduce 24 tons of hazardous fuels on Utah forest lands. They continue to be used throughout the state as both operational and demonstration tools by state, private and federal officials.


    impact on reducing hazardous fuels

    Bottom Line

    Educating the public and landowners about biochar and its applications while demonstrating the feasibility of building and using biochar kilns improves the health of Utah’s forest, saves taxpayer money, and creates a valuable product, biochar.