Government Disbursing Grants to Encourage Use of Woody Debris

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The federal government is disbursing some $4 million in grants to encourage innovative uses of low-value trees and woody debris removed from national forests. Nearly one-fourth of the money is going to Montana recipients.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer on Friday announced the grants would go to 17 small businesses and community groups. Montana recipients are Big Sky Shavings in Hall; Marks Ranch and Lumber in Clancy; Osler Logging in Bozeman; and the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District in Libby. Marks will get $211,500 and the others $250,000 each.

The grants are intended to encourage use of woody debris and low-value trees in the national forests, both for benefits such as energy production and to foster forest health, federal officials said. At a Helena wildfire conference in 2006, engineering consultant Denise DeLuca said Montana forests had so much debris that if it was made into chips and spread on a football field, the pile would be two miles high.

Reducing wildfire fuels is one goal of the grant program.

Osler Logging transports a grinder to woodlands and uses it to make debris into fuel that helps power Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., the Frenchtown packaging manufacturer, co-owner Jeremy Osler said. The ground material, called hog fuel, also is an energy source for a potato-drying operation in Idaho, Osler said. Grant dollars will help the company more efficiently transport the ground fuel out of forests, he said.

The Marks Ranch and Lumber grant is for purchase of a bandsaw. Big Sky Shavings, which processes woody material for use as animal bedding and other products, got money to further equip its mill. The Kootenai Business Park Industrial District is to spend its grant on a grinder and other equipment.

Montana has a track record in the use of woody debris, or “biomass.”

A public school in Townsend last year became Montana’s fifth to heat with biomass through a Forest Service program called Fuels for Schools. A biomass heating system was established several years earlier in the Bitterroot Valley town of Darby. Wildfires in 2000 burned 356,000 acres in the valley and destroyed about 70 homes.