Chief's Honor Awards 2017: Honorable Mention — Deborah Page-Dumroese

Biochar on forest site. Forest Service photo.

WASHINGTON — Deborah Page-Dumroese led a collaborative team, including members from the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the National Forest System, to demonstrate how to convert woody biomass into biochar, which is a carbon rich charcoal that can be used as a soil amendment. Oftentimes, the forest treatments aimed at improving forest health by reducing stand volume produce large quantities of woody material that would usually be burned in slash piles creating negative impacts on air quality and soil. The residues created during harvest operations can be used for bioenergy, biochar, and other bioproducts.

Bulk biochar. Forest Service photo.

The team partnered with private companies to create biochar for soil applications on field sites around the country and for lab studies. They successfully demonstrated that the woody biomass from forest treatments can be converted to biochar for sequestering carbon, increasing water holding capacity, and reducing nutrient leaching and greenhouse gas emissions. They also developed partnerships with local communities to use waste wood to create biochar and improve farm production.

Included in their research are science-based answers to management-driven questions, developing best management practices to reduce damage to the soil, and evaluating supply chain logistics for moving wood efficiently to various end uses. This project transforms the current, static management approach into a dynamic method that creates biochar to improve ecosystem function in a changing climate. In addition to proactively reducing wildfire risk and improving forest sustainability and resilience, the use of biochar improves soil quality, enhances growth of native plants, and increases carbon sequestration.

The application of this research with biochar extends beyond the continental United States and can be utilized worldwide. It is particularly applicable in wildland-urban interfaces, but is also broadly useful to many forest, range, or mine sites. Rural communities also benefit from biochar as it provides revenue streams that can enhance their local economies.