Posted by admin on June 11, 2016
by Luna Latimer
Ok, that headline is a cheap trick to get you to read about a controversial topic.
But seriously, have you googled “California and Biomass” recently?
One of the top results is an LA Times article titled: “Solar is in, Biomass energy is out.” The article goes on to explain that “The state's biomass energy plants are folding in rapid succession, unable to compete with heavily subsidized solar farms.” Let’s be honest with ourselves: even if solar power wasn’t subsidized, it would still be cheaper than biomass energy. But not all energy is created equal. Here’s the case for biomass energy, as I see it.
Biomass is fuel that is developed from organic materials, and used to create electricity or other forms of power, and it can offer a renewable and sustainable source of energy. In our area, biomass is usually generated using a forestry byproduct –materials that would otherwise be burned on site.
What will be the fate of this pile on National Forest lands? Will it be burned on site or used to create energy independence?
I know a lot of people living in the mid Klamath are off the grid and use hydro and/or solar power and batteries to produce their own power. In no way am I claiming that this power production is bad for the Klamath. Here on the River, I see a lot of solar panels on roofs where the power is being sold to PG&E at a rate between $0.03 to $0.04 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). That is cheap power. It also helps fill the PG&E requirement for renewable energy. Why would PG&E buy expensive biomass when it can fill its renewable quota with cheap solar power? They probably won’t.
We face a fire and fuel problem in the Klamath Mountains. Over a century of fire suppression and laws stopping prescribed burning has created a tinderbox around our communities. It is just a matter of time before these overly dense forests go up in smoke. I have a hard time viewing these trees as having sequestered carbon, as the fire reality we face makes the carbon seem pretty active, or ready to be released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas emissions.
As groups like the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), Karuk Tribe, Forest Service and Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP) work to increase the pace, scale and quality of collaborative restoration of our forests, a lot of the forest is slated to be burned. However, a portion of these forests – the part that is close to a road -- could be headed to a biomass power plant.
Biomass power is a superior renewable in that it has other benefits:
1) It provides a 24/7 baseload power – it can be produced even if the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow
2) It has a net carbon benefit because it not only is a renewable energy source, but it limits the emissions from pile burning in the forest.
3) It creates more local jobs than other sources of power, according to the US Department of Energy.
I know what some of you are thinking: If we are cutting woody biomass out of the forest (and using fuel to do so), then transporting it to a biomass facility (and using fuel to do so), how can you say that biomass energy is carbon neutral? A lot of work has gone into assessing this and given our local situation, biomass energy achieves a net decrease in atmospheric Greenhouse gasses compared to the alternative of open burning of the materials.
I have to take this one step further. Is there any hope for biomass energy in the mid Klamath? I think this really comes down to this question: who pays the cost? Even if you can get behind biomass as a carbon-neutral source of renewable energy with added community and ecosystem services in theory, would you pay a higher rate for this type of energy on your utility bill?
The brightest beacon of hope for biomass is the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) – the system in seven states, including California, which allows cities and counties to aggregate the buying power of individual customers to secure alternative energy supply contracts on a community-wide basis. The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors agreed two weeks ago to enter into the CCA program as part of Redwood Coast Energy Authority. The Board of Supervisors unanimously supports biomass energy being part of the CCA renewable energy portfolio. The CCA would still offer a lower rate than PG&E – which is critical so that customers don’t choose to opt out of the CCA – while adding biomass to the mix.
Here’s hoping that the Redwood Coast Energy Authority can take advantage of being in the Saudi Arabia of biomass.
Luna has worked with MKWC since 2003 when she was doing graduate research with the Orleans/Somes Bar Fire Safe Council. She is a fifth-generation forest worker from Southern Oregon. She lives in Orleans, CA and works for MKWC as one of two Directors. Luna oversees administration and operations for MKWC. She received a Master’s degree in Applied Anthropology from Oregon State University with a focus on forest restoration projects on private land within the middle Klamath. Luna works with private landowners, agencies, contractors and non-profit organizations to restore both upslope and in-stream ecosystems. Luna is passionate about non-timber forest products and spends her free time harvesting and processing acorns, huckleberries, mushrooms, and other food and medicines.
Posted by admin on June 1, 2016
by Chris Root
Scott Upton faced an overwhelming job in 2015. He began his presentation at the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council’s recent conference in Middletown, California saying as much.
Scott was the CALFIRE Unit Chief during four major fires in the tri-county Sonoma/Lake/Napa unit. Four years into the most severe drought on record in California, his agency saw a massive increase in the number of fires and area burned over their past averages.
The Valley Fire in Middletown was described as the third most destructive on record in the state, but it was just one of several large incidents that CALFIRE managed that year. Everyone at the conference was trying to figure out what made this fire so destructive. Was it just a freak of nature, or was this going to be the new normal for fire behavior in California?
The 2013 Rim Fire in Yosemite and the 2014 King fire in Tahoe each burned over 50,000 acres in a single day. These massive fires, Scott reminded the conference, were not driven by extreme wind events. They were triggered by drought-stressed fuels and vegetation.
The Valley Fire, which spread 40,000 acres and burned through three towns in the first 12 hours of the incident, was the new normal in times of drought. What was exceptionally terrible about this fire was that it occurred within a populated area, not in the back country of the Sierra Nevada.
Phil VanMantgem, a USGS scientist warned the conference participants that the current drought might be a possible preview of the future climate conditions in California. The current drought, he explained, is different than past events. Sure there is less rain than average - everyone is aware of that. But what’s unprecedented are the record-breaking temperatures that are coupled with the lack of rainfall. These temperatures are causing California’s overstocked and drought-stressed vegetation to suck the soil dry in a desperate effort to survive. If the moisture content got any lower in the vegetation burned during the Valley Fire, the plants would have died from drought stress alone.
During a tour of the Boggs Mountain State Demonstration Forest, the conference participants witnessed entire mountainsides of drought-stressed plantations killed by the ambient heat of the Valley Fire. They were so stressed they essentially baked to death from radiant heat generated in a surface fire.
What was especially surprising to CALFIRE, the managing agency at the Boggs forest, is that this area was perceived to be the shining example of responsible forest management in Lake County. The agency had even conducted some small prescribed fires in the heat-killed forest stands, a management practice that is rarely implemented in heavily populated counties in central California. These small demonstration burns, conducted over 10 years prior to the Valley Fire, had very little impact on tree survival.
Jeremy Bailey, a leader in the Nature Conservancy’s Fire Learning Network, and one of the nation’s greatest proponents of prescribed fire use, questioned how CALFIRE - the largest and most technologically advanced firefighting organization of its type in the world - intended to expand the use of prescribed fire when the agency found it difficult to burn 30 acres a year on its demonstration forest. The agency representatives expressed that the barriers to implementing burns were the same faced by private land owners, and by prescribed fire practitioners state wide.
Organizers initiated the conference to confront serious and seemingly intractable issues such as this drought stress phenomenon and the havoc it can wreak on California communities when wildfire strikes. As you would expect from a conference centered in a natural disaster area, most discussions were somewhat discouraging and depressing.
There was some optimism, however, centered on the Nature Conservancy Fire Learning Network’s TREX or Prescribed Fire Training Exchange program. The majority of the representatives from state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private land owners participating in the conference came to an understanding that the only way forward is through cooperating and sharing the responsibility and liability of implementing prescribed fire projects.
That mutual agreement will be essential to changing the way we respond to future fires. That shift, in turn, can help us get ahead of mega droughts and fires to be safer and smarter down the line.
Above left: Middletown, Lake County, CA was one of three towns impacted by the 2015 Valley Fire.
At right: participants in the 2014 Klamath River Prescribed Fire Training Exchange make the front cover of Wildfire Magazine.
Chris Root is MKWC's Fire and Fuels project coordinator, responsible for overseeing MKWC's brushing and burning crews and helping to implement the annual Prescribed Fire Training Exchange in the Middle Klamath watershed.
Posted by admin on April 21, 2016
by Ramona Taylor
SPRING! Verdant, fresh, cool, warm, blooming, chirping and growing. Spring comes to me with the promise of food. I can’t help but make the connection between spring and fresh garden food. I see tons of fruit blossoms and imagine eating all those oh-so-delicious, tender, juicy fruits of summer! And yet it’s time to write this blog, write reports, and write funding requests. I ask myself, “Why am I spending precious hours and days plunking out words on my laptop in my dark office on these gorgeous days?” Here is my answer.
I remember the warm, early summer day I decided to actively pursue a different path in life. I had attended a few meetings to discuss food in our community. Some people had lots and others not enough; some could afford awesome organic food and others, only crappy processed food. Those meetings got me thinking and I decided to volunteer for the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC).
As a volunteer on a school field trip to a local farm, I had an exchange with a 6-year-old boy. We were standing next to a fruit tree. He looked up, pointed to the fruit and asked me, “What’s that?” I looked up and saw a peach. At first, I was confused by his question and I hesitated, but he was still looking at me for an answer. “It’s a peach. That’s a peach tree.” He gave me a quizzical look, skeptical even. I was a little taken aback and then a little horrified. This young boy growing up in rural northern California had no idea that peaches grew on trees. I asked him where he thought peaches came from. At this question, he perked up and cheerfully answered, “A can!” He knew they came from a can, and before that the store, and before that a truck, and the truck took a highway. Where did he think peaches came from before the truck? He was confused and had no answer. His eyes got really big…the ah-ha moment came when he realized those peaches in the can came from peaches that grew on peach trees.
Then we ate peaches. Fresh peaches off the tree. Drippy sweet, delicious, first of the season peaches. That moment changed the direction of my life…I was angry and sad this sweet little boy had never had a fresh peach. I realized this little boy was a product of our society being disconnected from our food. For some, peaches do come from the can.
Today, I work for the Mid Klamath Watershed Council Community Foodsheds Program. One of our current projects is The Klamath Roots Food Project, funded by a USDA Food Security Grant and a USDA Farm to School grant. The project is a collaboration with local schools, the Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources (KDNR) and many community members and agencies. Approximately 330 youth in seven Mid Klamath Schools are involved with contemporary garden and traditional food based activities, curriculum and field trips. Field trips highlight local farmers and food production, volunteerism, and traditional food gathering trips. Partners from the KDNR and the Yurok Tribe Fisheries program have been invaluable, providing curriculum and field trips about traditional food resources and how land management decisions impact cultural resources. The project also addresses systemic barriers to increasing access to and consumption of fresh, local food in school cafeterias. All in hopes of inspiring students to become familiar with growing and making food, seeing local people and businesses that grow and make food, and empowering them to choose healthy food options.
That little peach boy is why I am plunking away at my computer on this absolutely gorgeous day. To see their little faces light up as they dig in the dirt and get DIRTY..to watch kids who “don’t like GREEN THINGS” gobble down some fresh made pesto they helped grow and make…to see the amazement on her face when she sees the pea starts in the window moving towards the sunlight and exclaims “They’re moving!…They’re ALIVE!” That is why I am spending my time writing reports trying to quantify the absolutely amazing qualitative experience to share a real, fresh delicious peach with a 6-year-old boy in the wilds of northern California.
Want to help out or learn more? Email me at Ramona@mkwc.org
To learn more about the Klamath Food Security Project and activities happening from the mouth of the Klamath River to the upper Basin, sign up for the monthly newsletter by following this link.
Learn more about the impacts of Farm to School by clicking here.
This post is funded through USDA Food Security Grant #2012-68004-20018 & USDA Farm to School Grant #CN-F2S-SS-15-CA-03.
Photos in this blog, upper left to lower left (clockwise): (1) Local youth learn to plant in the community garden in Orleans. (2) Students get their hands dirty as they participate in a Weitchpec community garden as part of MKWC's Foodsheds Farm to School program. (3) The basil, pepper and pear harvest from a local school garden, on its way to being incorporated into school lunches. (4) Forks of Salmon students are proud of the potatoes they grew in their school garden! Photos 1 and 2 are courtesy of MKWC staff. Dara Soto captured Photo 3. Tammy Markin captured Photo 4.
Ramona Taylor is the Director of MKWC's Foodsheds Program, an effort that addresses community food needs by building strong relationships, organizing peer-to-peer workshops, events and projects based on seasonal food activities, supporting ongoing initiatives in our community, and providing technical support for building strong school, community and family gardens.
Posted by admin on March 28, 2016
by Tanya Chapple
I wanted to write this blog about pollination. Usually, when I think of pollination my mind immediately visualizes bees and butterflies, maybe a hummingbird or a bat if I get excited. But when I started thinking about pollination in early March there weren’t many pollinators to see. What became very apparent, however, were the blooms of alder, hazel and willow… Wind Pollination!
Many plants use wind to disperse their pollen, notably conifers and grasses. Trees and shrubs with pendulous, green or brown flowers, like alder, hazel and willow, oaks, silktassle, maple, and ash also reproduce via wind pollination. These trees and shrubs show good examples of catkin or catkin-like inflorescences. A catkin is a flowering structure, designed to distribute (or receive) pollen on the wind. Often only the male flowers form catkins, while the female flower will take another shape, as we see in hazel or oak.
The catkin appears to be an example of convergent evolution; this reproductive mechanism evolved at least twice, once for the order Fagales (oaks, hazel, alder) and again for Salicaceae (willow, cottonwood).
Wind pollination will only be successful if there is space for the air to pick up and move the pollen. Most of the trees forming catkins do so before they form their leaves, thus having more space for air movement. Conifers spread their pollen across the top of the forest canopy and grasses spread their pollen across the meadow or range. Understory plants are almost never wind pollinated as there isn’t enough space for this to be successful; these plants rely on the help of those bees, butterflies, occasional hummingbird or bat to pollinate their flowers.
Great information about insect pollinators can be found at the Xerces Society website: www.xerces.org
The photos in this blog post show (from top to bottom): catkins on Garrya fremontii, common name silktassel, photographed at the Klamath Salmon confluence, catkins ready for dispersal from a willow, and a female blossom and male catkin on a hazel plant.
Tanya Chapple directs MKWC's invasive plant initiatives, and also co-directs native plant restoration efforts at the organization. She has resided in the Middle Klamath since 2008, and developed a profound understanding of the backcountry and astoundingly diverse plant life in these mountains.
Posted by admin on February 28, 2016
by Michael Max Hentz
All of a sudden spring is back in the air. The alder catkins are hanging out in the wind. Leaf buds taut ready to burst, spring plants popping. Song birds returning, snow will be melting. Sun’s rising higher and days grow longer, even the stars are shifting back to summer configurations.
It is coming on 10 years this May since I moved back to live again within the Klamath Mountains. Somehow, as time passes and I get older, I become more respectful of these changes, I believe partly because of an awareness of my own finiteness. It is as if I miss it already and I am yet still here. Below you can see the scene in my backyard as it changes with the passage of time.
A lot of us live remotely, surrounded by creeks and rivers, forests and mountains. Living “in” the Klamath creates strong connections. Our food and energy systems rely on it; our water, often taken from springs, is a signal of our relationship, particularly during these last dry years. Many subtle changes occurring simultaneously are easily overlooked and then there are the more dramatic changes, the fires and floods, snowstorms, rockslides, births and the deaths. All are encompassed within this river of time.
Working for the Mid Klamath Watershed Council (MKWC), I reflect on the youth (such as the ones pictured to the right) who have grown up in this country and who have participated in our programs, including watershed education events, school field trips, rafting adventures, noxious weed pulls, even prescribed fires… You see a picture from 8 years ago when the kids were six and now they are 14, or they were 13 and now they are sophomores in college. Some of these youth return to work on field crews for MKWC during the summer. How much have they been learning and growing during this period which to me seems to be moving by so fast? It was just yesterday that they were learning to shift the flow of water to improve fish passage for migrating salmon, to identify and pull invasive weeds that compete with native plants, to wield a shovel or a drip torch on a fireline, and maybe most importantly, to understand the changing conditions on the ground.
Then there are the historic changes to the country. Western Europeans entering the Klamath in search of beaver and gold created a cataclysmic disturbance with cultural and ecological consequences unimaginable and still reverberating. The move into the forests for timber to build after the great world war, roads were constructed to take us there, to protect the forests from fire “Smokey The Bear” led us there. Our actions created unintended consequences we are now struggling with, let alone paying for…We are trying to learn and re-invent our way out of this, something that takes time.
Rightfully, there is a renewed effort to learn from and reinstitute local native cultural practices, what is known to some as “Traditional Ecological Knowledge”. This understanding was developed, tried and true as they say, in this place by countless generations of practitioners and is finally being respected. It’s about time. There is concurrent development in Western science in the fields of forest and river management that gives me hope: putting fire back into the landscape and pulling out dams. In other words, we are beginning to learn an approach to stewardship with a longer view.
I remember the flood of 1997 and how shaded cool creeks with deep pools and stately canopies of alders, maples and cottonwood overhead were turned into broad riffles in the full sun, pools filled in with sediment where water temperatures rose. This flood was kin to the last large “El Niño”, the cyclical Pacific weather pattern which returned to us this year. But those flood effects were also related to the more immediate local management of our uplands. The roads that were perched on too-steep slopes, forests denuded of protecting cover and many culverts were not quite “right sized”. This combination moved mountains in short order. You look at photos of the same streams today and it is breathtaking how fast alders grow, how continually the creek changes and how the natural rehabilitation of the stream channel works its magic. My fisheries friends talk about gravel recruitment and large woody debris inputs enhancing spawning and rearing habitat, a result of floods, an apt metaphor- “that time heals all wounds”. Here, you can see the effects of flooding in Grider Creek watershed, a key salmon bearing tributary to the Middle Klamath:
Another saying is that only time will tell. My hope is that we will keep learning to live well and respectfully with the Klamath Mountains, but I am not always sure time is on our side. There is a Latin phrase fugit inreparabile tempus “It escapes, irretrievable time”, also known simply as time flies, so we better keep working on it.
Oh yeah! And don't forget to turn your clocks forward on Sunday, the 13th of March at 2 a.m., because we cannot even leave time itself alone.
Michael Max Hentz lives in the Elk Creek watershed, a major tributary stream in the Middle Klamath subbasin. He works primarily in MKWC’s Fisheries, Fire and Fuels, and Watershed Education Programs.