Feb 212008
Authors: Tiffany Cassidy

Colorado’s mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation has been a problem that can no longer be avoided, according to a panel of speakers who presented at CSU Thursday.

While there is no feasible solution for the infestation, they said, utilizing the dead compost caused by the plague, known as biomass, is a possible solution to the reducing fire danger.

The conference, held in the Lory Student Center Theater, featured 17 speakers, including Senators Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.).

“People are paying more attention and the momentum is starting to build. We need to keep biomass energy at the forefront to continue this momentum,” said conference organizer Mike Eckhoff, who is a graduate forest sciences major.

The speakers presented information on the benefits of the use of biomass as fuel to address the issue of fire danger and lighten Colorado’s dependence on fossil fuels.

But projects to obtain biomass from the state’s forests face a myriad of issues from the logistical nightmare of removing the dead trees to miles of red tape dealing property rights, as much of the dieing forest is on private property, to getting funding approval for the effort.

The U.S. has the potential to produce 1.4 billion tons of biomass fuel every year. Nearly one third of this is obtainable from forests according to a 2005 report from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy.

CSU professor Dr. Kurt Mackes, who presented at the conference, said recent large-scale catastrophic wildlife fires and the increasing prices for non-renewable fossil fuels has many Colorado lawmakers eyeing the viability of a biomass industry.

But skepticism regarding the astronomical state funds needed to subsidize such a program reduce the likelihood that biomass will be used any time soon.

Mackes said Colorado’s high-risk red zones cover 6.3 million acres of the state’s forest, subjecting those areas to “catastrophic” wildfires.

Biomass is currently the only renewable energy source that can be used to produce liquid fuels, Mackes said.

Eckhoff said foresters are currently working to clear red zones, but the wood is not used for biomass fuel.

“The issues are forest health,” Eckhoff said. “And to reduce fire hazard, at the same time we are using the renewable resource for energy. Biomass is a way to tackle two problems with one solution. It won’t solve all the energy problems, but it is a damn good start.”

Staff writer Tiffany Cassidy can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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