Biomass-to-Bioenergy Primer

The February meeting will feature a presentation by Steve Brink of the California Forestry Association on what needs to be considered in owning and operating a biomass power plant.  In addition there will be updates on the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and Scoping Study.

Steve Brink graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in civil engineering and later completed post graduate studies in Forest Engineering at Oregon State University (1981).  He retired in 2005 from the U.S. Forest Service after 37 years, including ten assignments in Regions 4 and 5, the National Office, and was Region 10 (Alaska) Deputy Regional Forester-Resources.  His Forest Service career focused on engineering and land management planning.  He has been with the California Forestry Association as Vice President for Public Resources since July, 2005.  He focuses on wood supply from California’s National Forests, forest-related national statutes, regulations, and Interior appropriations, California diesel engine rules, and carbon accounting for cap-and-trade and carbon offset programs.

Six critical things to focus on when considering a biomass power plant are:

  1. Forest biomass feedstock;
  2. Mechanical thinning acres required to create the annual feedstock need;
  3. The advantage of a biomass power plant over open-field pile burning;
  4. The types and sizes of biomass power plants;
  5. The cost stump to power plant for the feedstock;
  6. Conclude with the total cost.

The MOA work group met with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Deputy Forest Supervisor and agreed on the final wording of the MOA, which is appended to the meeting agenda.  A signing ceremony is tentatively scheduled for the April meeting.  The final phase of the scoping study is expected to be completed in February with a presentation at the March meeting.  The Hot Springs Road Corridor work group is awaiting a decision by CALFIRE as to the success of the Fire Prevention Grant which is expected in March.

Our February meeting is scheduled for Tuesday February 4th at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.

December Meeting Summary

MOA Update: At the December meeting, the ABC made progress in adopting a revised Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Christine Aralia, CA Tahoe Conservancy, reminded the group that an MOA is important because it facilitates cooperation and coordination with agencies by providing a framework for a shared vision and for rules of governance. ABC’s goal is to get as many signatories as possible to sign on as partners. These partnerships allow for greater leveraging of resources and for increasing pace and scale of landscape restoration. The most recent draft includes revisions by the HT. Teresa McClung, Deputy Forest Supervisor, not only approved the most recent draft, she also generously offered to reach out to signatories at the Amador, Stanislaus, El Dorado and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit for their approval. There will be a status report on the MOA in February. Teresa McClung also suggested a signing ceremony; this idea was well received by the group and will be discussed in February.

Presentation: Trina Johnson gave a presentation on how the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can help landowners manage, protect, improve and conserve natural resources. NRCS’s mission is to help people help the land. She also solicited ABC’s input to generate a list of Alpine County’s top resource concerns. This is important because for the first time, Alpine County’s priorities will be included in NRCS’ ranking system. The NRCS offers technical and financial assistance. Technical assistance helps landowners develop a plan for their resource concerns. Financial assistance, provided by the Farm Bill of 2018, is based on the plan and provides the most cost-effective way to address concerns.  All counties in a region compete. For instance, Alpine County will be competing with everyone else in forested areas as part of the Forest Land Fund Pool. Plans are used to draft a contract, which is flexible and can be renegotiated. No match is required and contracts are based on reimbursement. The 2019 budget for Alpine and Mono Counties was around $300,000 and funded all three contracts submitted. Funding is getting more competitive, however. Applications will be accepted soon and projects should be funded by August, 2020. Trina Johnson facilitated a discussion on Alpine County’s top resource concerns. Mitigating catastrophic fire dominated the discussion with soil quality, soil erosion, insufficient water and water inefficiency as top resource concerns. Insufficient water was recorded under the Pasture Land category.

Poor Boy Ridge – Hot Springs Road Corridor Working Group: There was lots of excitement over the CAL FIRE grant application, which was submitted December 4th.  The working group is optimistic it will be funded. The ABC thanked the working group for all its hard work and the working group acknowledged Chris Anthony for his guidance and feedback. Matt Zumstein, Carson District Ranger, complimented the ABC on the grant submission which encourages pooling resources for landscape restoration.

Participant Updates: Don Hittenmiller thanked Anna Belle Monti and the HT’s hand crews for their exemplary work on Pleasant Valley Road. Matt Zumstein, Carson District Ranger, thanked Steve Howell for his participation in coordinating resources. Matt Zumstein reiterated his long-term commitment to our region and to his job. He reported he has consulted with John Wentworth at the Eastern Sierra Sustainability Recreation Partnership and that he is reaching out to Liz Burger with the Forest Management Task Force regarding leverage resources. Teresa McClung reported USFS is starting a NEPA process for forest wide prescribed burning on the HT. This will be a categorical exclusion and will exclude roadless and wilderness areas. Matt Zumstein noted that broadcast burning, a critical tool for forest management, keeps him up at night; it is far and away the riskiest thing he and Teresa McClung do as line officers for USFS. The April meeting may be a good opportunity for a presentation by Ag Extension on prescribed fire in the Tahoe Basin; the HT will have a lot to contribute to this topic. January Riddle, Concerned Citizens of the Hot Spring Corridor, is recruiting census takers in Alpine County. The census is important for Alpine County’s federal funding. Christine Aralia shared new publications from the CA Tahoe Conservancy: A Forest Action Plan for the Tahoe Basin and Lake Tahoe West Project.

NRCS Fuels Reduction Assistance

The December meeting will feature a presentation on Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) funding for private landowners to improve their properties, including fuels reduction.  The presentation will be given by Trina Johnson, Acting District Conservationist for the NRCS.  There will also be a short updates on the scoping study and the Hot Springs Road Corridor project.

This should be of interest to any private landowner who is interested in completing fuels reduction on their acreage, but needs assistance in paying for it.

Trina Johnson has a degree in Range and Forestry management from the University of Nevada, Reno. She has been with the NRCS for over 13 years working on soil surveys, ecological site descriptions and planning.  Since 2009, she has been a conservation planner out of the Minden field office.  The Minden office covers Southern Washoe, Storey, Carson City and Douglas counties in Nevada and Northern Mono and Alpine counties in California.  Her experience stretches over all disciplines including range, forest, pasture, crop, wildlife projects, easements, as well as, Farm Service Agency (FSA) wetland determinations.  Through her position she collaborates with various entities and disciplines, including agency and private operators to accomplish common goals and achieve broader objectives. She is passionate about the outdoors through her job and personal adventures.

The second phase of the scoping study is now complete.  The second phase was to determine the most economically viable uses of the excess biomass and has been completed by The Beck Group.  It is available here.  The final phase of the scoping study is expected to be completed in February.  The Hot Springs Road Corridor work group has essentially completed the application to CAL FIRE for a Fire Prevention Grant and it should be filed this week.  The project received excellent support from various agencies and residents, and all major landowners within the project boundaries have committed to participating.

Our December meeting is scheduled for Tuesday December 3rd at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.  There will be no meeting in January, but regular meetings will resume in February.

November meeting summary


Photo by Mary Rawson

Our meeting on November 5th, 2019 at Turtle Rock Park was attended by 24 members of the public and agencies.  There was a presentation on beavers in the Sierra as well as updates on the Hot Springs Road Corridor project, the scoping study, and the Eastern Sierra Sustainable Recreation Partnership (ESSRP).

Shelly Blair’s presentation on beavers in the Sierra left little doubt that there were beavers in the Sierra prior to the arrival of Europeans.  But her presentation also left little doubt that beavers and humans cannot coexist peacefully in the same place.  The good that beavers can do in meadow restoration can be offset by the damage they cause when their dams affect infrastructure and private property.  Unfortunately beavers are highly mobile and tend not to stay in one place, but spread out from where we may want them to places where they cause significant damage.  They will continue to be controversial.

Organization Update:  The draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) will be reviewed by the new Carson District Ranger.  Suggestions for the new name for the collaborative received to date now include:

Alpine Forest Collaborative  (AFC).
Alpine Healthy Forest Collaborative  (AHFC).
Biomass Collaborative Committee  (BCC).
Biomass Collaborative of Alpine County  (BCAC).
Alpine Forest Health Collaborative (AFHC).

Scoping Study Update:  The biomass supply part of the study is complete and there is a sufficient sustainable biomass supply for some form of biomass conversion to electricity or heat.  The consultant is now determining what the most productive uses of that biomass are.

Hot Springs Road Corridor Update:  Preliminary discussions with major land owners continue to be encouraging.  Subsequent to the November meeting the working group will be meeting with a Registered Professional Forester and key landowners.  To date letters of support and letters of commitment are coming in as hoped.  The grant application process is on schedule and will be ready for filing prior to the Dec. 4th deadline.

ESSRP:  The public workshop to start developing criteria for project selection was held in Bishop and was well attended with approximately 100 people participating.

Participant Updates:  The Hellmans reported that they are pursuing a cost sharing arrangement with NRCS for mastication on their property.  Francis reported that the feasibility of restarting the biomass-to-bioenergy plant in Carson City was being looked at by the Nevada Division of Forestry.  She also reported that the Loyalton biomass-to-bioenergy plant was having trouble securing an adequate supply of biomass.  Francis also reported that she had attended one of the prescribed fire workshops for private landowners and that she was impressed at the quality of the workshop.  She also reminded everyone that the regional Forest Management Task Force is building a list of potential projects.  In Plumas County they have a prescribed burning club for private landowners who work cooperatively on burns.  McAfee reported that the AWG was having a presentation on invasive weeds at its meeting Tuesday Nov. 12th at 5:30 pm at the Woodfords Indian Education Center.  Harvey reported that he was pursuing a cost sharing arrangement with the NRCS for fuels reduction on his property on Poor Boy Ridge.  Roide reported that the BLM was currently scoping their proposed 1,200 acre vegetation treatment project in Alpine County.  Input on the scoping is open until Dec. 1st.  Details are available here.  Monti reported that the vegetation management project on Monitor Pass was complete, the fuels reduction project in Pleasant Valley would be complete this week, and that Christmas tree permits were now on sale.  Zumstein, the new Carson District Ranger introduced himself and gave a summary of his background and experience, and what he sees as the potential of the District.  Hames reported that the fuels reduction project by Alpine Village was underway, and that the goals of the proposed Red Flag Ordinance will be met by other means.  Griffith reported that the Forest Management Task Force was moving forward slowly and has not yet got to the point of making specific recommendations.  He also reported that pellet stoves in general do not work with portable generators so when the power goes out the heat may be gone to.  Rawson reported that the Markleeville Christmas Faire would be Nov. 23rd at the Government Center.

The next meeting is set for Tuesday December 3rd at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.  The speaker will be Trina Johnson who will be giving a presentation on the National Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) programs to aid private landowners  improve forest health.  There will be no meeting in January.

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Beavers in the Sierra

The November meeting will feature a presentation on beavers in the Sierra by California Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) Unit Biologist Shelly Blair, a short discussion on the scoping study, a brief update on the Hot Springs Road Corridor project, and further discussion of the draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)

Beavers, c’imhélhel in the Washoe language, are a controversial subject in the Sierra.  The Forest Service and American Rivers’ project in Faith Valley has created interest in knowing more about them.  Are they a native or invasive species and does the good that they can do outweigh the damage they can cause are two of the questions to be discussed.  Please check any strongly held opinions at the door and listen to what science knows about beavers.

Shelly Blair is an Environmental Scientist (Wildlife) for the CDFW, and is currently the unit biologist for El Dorado and Alpine Counties.  She has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biological Sciences from the California State University Chico and began working as a volunteer and scientific aid with CDFW in 1993.  She has held seasonal positions in the enforcement, education and outreach, and upland game programs, and worked in the Wildlife Investigations Lab and the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area.  Her first permanent position as a wildlife biologist was with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) in 2000.  For the next five years, she was the liaison between CDFA and the US Department of Agriculture/Wildlife Services Program; dealing with statewide wildlife/ human conflict issues.  In 2006, she moved back to CDFW and led the statewide Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Program in the Wildlife Investigations Lab.   In 2010, she was hired for her current position. Her responsibilities include all wildlife management issues and projects (mainly game species) and she is land manager of all CDFW owned wildlife areas and ecological reserves in El Dorado and Alpine Counties.

The Beck Group’s study on the availability and characteristics of excess biomass from our forest that might be put to a productive use has been completed and is available here.  The study is now moving on to determine the most economically viable uses of the excess biomass.  The Hot Springs Road Corridor work group is preparing the application to CALFIRE for a Fire Prevention Grant.  Preliminary discussions with landowners have been encouraging.  Progress on the draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is waiting for the results of the Forest Service’s review.

Our November meeting is scheduled for Tuesday November 5th at 6:00 pm at Turtle Rock Park.