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Interface Forestry

forest stewardship in the wildland-urban interface

Notes and Research

Managing for Non-Timber Forest Products

Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) are marketable, socially-valuable products that forest owners can produce while retaining the larger, more valuable trees on a forest property. (Standing trees are ecologically and financially valuable, and, generally, become more valuable through time.) Landowners can produce some NTFPs right on site -- from edible or medicinal mushrooms and herbs to wood chips.

One advantage of producing some NTFPs is that their production eliminates a large problem associated with standard forest operations and treatments, the elimination of slash -- the tons per acre of combustible small-diameter trees and limbs.

Interface Forestry is currently working with a diverse group of forest operators, mycologists, business people, ecologists, and others to develop and locate new products, production cycles, and markets for a variety of NTFPs. We'll post our research and development results every quarter (early January, April, July, and October) on this web page (Managing for Non-Timber Forest Products). The following sections discuss the status of various NTFPs and opportunities:

Wood Chips for Energy

In Montana, we currently suffer limited options for marketing and selling small-diameter, trees and chipped biomass for energy use. A small market includes a handful of lumber mills, which buy a limited supply of hog fuel. (Hog fuel is made from all parts of the above-ground tree.) These plants often burn hog fuel to run electrical generators for running machinery and heat. However, the market they offer is small and their offered prices are low. Only operations in near proximity to one of these mills would prove profitable by selling hog fuel.

However, the US Forest Service is now promoting biomass fuel, and as conventional energy sources become more expensive, the benefits of using biomass will increase. These projects do not currently offer a market for wood chips off private lands. However, they may in the future. For instance, some public schools participating in the Fuels for Schools programs have installed woodchip-fueled heating boilers. These systems gasify chips in a slow-cooking process that releases carbon-based simple gasses, which are then burned at high temperatures. However, chips for these schools come from slash disposal operations on nearby national forests, so as of yet, this program cannot benefit the private land owner.

An interesting product of pyrolysis (the slow-cooking of biomass) is a product called agrochar, which works as a beneficial soil amendment, drastically increasing soil porosity and providing available nutrients for plant uptake.

Responding to a lack of adequate solutions for slash disposal and an increasing need for alternative fuel sources, Interface Forestry and others are working to develop the entire chip-to-energy production cycle. Some of Interface Forestry's current projects include:

  • Developing a GIS-based model for estimating biomass availability on the forestlands in proximity to a community (or other administrative unit), based on distance, hauling costs, property ownership, stand-level forest tree growth and biomass production, and other relevant factors.
  • Identifying manufacturers of advanced woodburners and boilers to produce electricity and heat at a neighborhood or individual level. Advanced burners employ pyrolization and gasification techniques. These techniques slow-cook the biomass until it releases carbon-based gases, which are then burned at high temperatures (sometimes above 1,000 degrees F) to create heat or electricity.
  • Seeking out clients (institutional or private) willing to invest in and try these technologies. (If you are interested, please contact us!)

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Edible Mushrooms for Eating and Selling

Aside from providing a ready and nutritious source of food, mushrooms can provide the basis for several processed foods. For example, before the advent of ketchup as we know it, a tomato product invented for mass market in the 20th century, the sauce was based on a prepared mushroom puree.

One of the most prolific root rot fungi in the world is Armillaria spp, also known as the edible honey mushroom. This genus is common to the moister areas within a stand or forest. This enigmatic mushroom is a problem for some objectives, and a solution for others.

However, many edible mushrooms are not detrimental to trees and command a proven lucrative market, including morels and chantrelles. We are currently working with a mycologist to develop a process for on-site inoculation of chipped or masticated slash. We are featuring two species native to many of the ecosystems in western Montana: Lyophyllum descastes, otherwise known as "Fried Chicken Mushroom," (or to the Japanese, "Chimaji,") and Pleurotus pulminarius, otherwise known as "Oyster Mushrooms." If you are interested, please contact us!

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Inedible Fungus Products

We are currently researching a variety of products, including landscaping materials made from slash and fungal inoculates, which will retain moisture, increase beneficial mycorhizal relationships between beneficial fungi and tree roots, and protect damaged soils and slopes from further erosion. We are also looking into biopulping, a process for breaking down lignin without using significant heat and a blend of highly toxic chemicals. Biopulping is already under production in other parts of the world.

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Non-Timber Forest Services

In association with our research on landscaping materials made from slash and fungal inoculates, we are developing landscaping and landscape rehabilitation methods for repairing damaged landscapes. The results of these treatments will be improved moisture retention, return of beneficial mycorhizal relationships between beneficial fungi and tree roots, and rebuilding of damaged soils and slopes from further erosion.

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Forest Carbon Sequestration

Forest Carbon sequestration is the process of fixing and holding carbon through plant photosynthesis and plant growth processes. Conversely, forest carbon release is the release of carbon as plants respire or die and decay. The forest carbon cycle is complex and only partially understood. While the ecology and forestry discourses are aware that plant growth sequesters carbon (as does fungi, using the energy from plants), we are still learning about many of the ongoing processes (functions) and how they qualitatively and quantitatively affect sequestration. Soil ecology, for example, plays a large role in carbon sequestration, and we are still learning about the dynamics of root and fine-root-hair growth and decay.

Currently, our ability of to quantify carbon sequestration on the practical, working level is coarse, at best. Standard forest measurement techniques allow us to quantify the stem (xylem) volume of forest stand, and even project growth into the future. (The underlying equations are based on growth and yield data collected over the last century.) And, other computer-applications and their underlying equations allow us to determine the mass of carbon sequestered in a tree for harvest or fuel management objectives. But, currently, no model for quantifying stand-level carbon sequestration -- including root mass -- is available for everyday professional use. Thus, our estimates can only be rough and must leave out the entire rhizosphere (root zone). However, the conceptual pieces are available for such a more comprehensive model, and we'll see a useful application emerge within the next two years.

In the near future, however, our ability to measure and document forest sequestration will improve, as a market emerges for the buying and selling of carbon-credits. As this market emerges, forest owners with standing, provable sequestered carbon will enjoy another potential income source based on nothing but preserving and maintaining standing trees.

At this time, several key institutions are lacking for a carbon-credit market:

  • A market demand is only now beginning to emerge, as supra-national, national and state governments pass cap-and-trade legislation.
  • Exchanges and brokerages dealing with carbon trading are in their infancy.
  • Regulations that define and standardize carbon credits vis-a-vis measurement and documentation have not emerged. We foresee these regulations favoring the retention of standing forests in the process of assigning price value to an forest stand or ownership's provable sequestration.
  • Practical working models for widespread application have not emerged.

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Adams, Darius M.The Economics of Sequestering Carbon in Forests (Slideshow) (Corallis, OR: Department of Forest Resources, Oregon State University).

Call, Jessica, and Jennifer Hayes, A Description and Comparison of Selected Forest Carbon Registries: A Guide for States Considering the Development of a Forest Carbon Registry (Asheville, NC: Southern Research Station, 2007).

Hoover, Coeili M., Richard A. Birdsey, Linda S. Heath, and Susan L. Stout, "How to Estimate Carbon Sequestration on Small Forest Tracts," Journal of Forestry September 2000, 13-19.

Kimmins J. P., Forest Ecology: a Foundation for Sustainable Management, 3rd edition(Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004).

Smith, James E. and Linda S. Heath, A Model of Forest Floor Carbon Mass for United States Forest Types (Newtown Square, PA: USDA, Forest Service, Northeast Research Station, 2002). (NE-722.)

Smith, James E., Linda S. Heath, Kenneth E. Skog, and Richard A. Birdsey, Methods for Calculating Forest Ecosystem and Harvested Carbon with Standard Estimates for Forest Types of the United States(Newtown Square, PA: USDA, Forest Service, Northeast Research Station, 2006). (GTR-NE-343.)

Smith, James E., Linda S. Heath, and Peter B. Woodbury,"How to Estimate Carbon for Large Areas from Inventory Data," Journal of Forestry July/August, 2004, 25-31.

Tilman, David, Peter Reich, Hope Phillips, Mary Menton, Ami Patel, Erin Vos, David Peterson, and J. Knops, "Fire suppression and ecosystem carbon storage," Ecology October, 2000, 2680-2685.

Links to related and supporting information

The Western Mycological Association is an excellent resource for answering questions and learning more about mushrooms and field techniques in the Montana area.

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