Harvesting woody biomass from the forest can be a win-win effort.

It can help manage pest, disease and fire issues, be used as a source of cleaner, renewable fuel and provide additional income for woodland owners.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Kentucky has the potential to produce approximately 2 million dry tonnes of woody biomass annually. Though markets for the material are young or still in the planning stages, the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry is hosting three woody biomass workshops around the state in July to help the private landowner gather information about the subject.

"Right now the markets are limited, but a lot of people are looking," said Jeff Stringer, UK Extension professor for hardwood silviculture and forest operations.

"These meetings will get the current information in front of loggers and landowners, so they understand what the potentials and the pitfalls are, so they can make some wise decisions when, if and as that market comes online."

Usually, when trees are harvested for saw logs and pulp, only the bottom portion of the main trunk is taken. The rest of the tree is left in the forest to decompose, providing nutrients and habitat for wildlife.

Stringer said, if care is taken, landowners could take a bit more of that fallen tree out and use it as a renewable fuel source.

"We've done research and the forestry community is developing guidelines to ensure that biomass harvesting does not inadvertently degrade forests," he said.

"For example, in some places you might want to leave a certain number of tree tops in the woods to provide habitat, organic matter and nutrients, even though all of the tops could potentially be harvested."

And, he pointed out, some places shouldn't be harvested for biomass at all.

Sustainability issue

"There is the issue of sustainability. Ecosystem sustainability has to be thought about and dealt with," he said.

"Biomass is like any other market; it's a two-edged sword. It's a good thing; you make money, and there are opportunities to help with aspects of sustainable woodland management. But if it is not managed and conducted properly, you could wind up degrading forest soils and creating a lot of bare ground and opening up the area to invasive species. So we have to do this in the right way, which is part of what we'll talk about at these meetings as well."

The Biomass Harvesting in Kentucky workshop will take place in three regions of the state: July 12 at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton, July 13 at the London Community Center, 529 South Main Street, London and July 14 at the Morehead Conference Center, 111 East First Street, Morehead. All workshops begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. local time.

Sessions will be conducted for woodland owners and loggers. Topics include an overview of woody biomass in the United States and Kentucky, a forest industry outlook for biomass harvesting, costs and benefits for woodland owners, best management practices and future harvesting guidelines, an update on the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the status of biomass initiatives in Kentucky and harvesting technology.

Speakers include Stringer, Robert Rummer, project leader for forest operations research with the U.S. Forest Service; Daniel Allard, who is in charge of procurement for pulp chips and biomass fuel for paper manufacturer Domtar's facility in Hawesville; Faye Brown, GIS state coordinator for the USDA's Farm Service Agency; Grant Curry, vice-president for fuel procurement of EcoPower; John Lhotka, assistant professor of silviculture in the UK forestry department; Larry Lowe of the Kentucky Division of Forestry and Tim Hughes, director of biofuels in the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Pre-registration is required and available online or by calling 859-257-7597 by July 8. The landowner session fee is $10 and includes lunch and refreshments, and the logger session is $50. Late registration is $10 more.

Kentucky Master Loggers will receive six hours of continuing education credits for attending this program. In order to receive credit, Master Loggers must register through the Kentucky Master Logger office, 859-257-6230 or online.