2020 Biochar-In-Place Feasibility Project
Fuel Reduction And Soil Restoration

by Karen Youngblood, Forest Conservation Specialist

Karen Youngblood, URFC Forest Conservation Specialist

This fall, RFFI will initiate its first biochar-in-place project. With partners Sonoma Ecology Center and the California Conservation Corps (CCC), and technical expertise from Kelpie Wilson of Wilson Biochar, we will demonstrate the use of the Ring-of-Fire portable kiln at four locations on Usal Redwood Forest to process hazardous woody material into biochar. The CCC crew will thin overly dense, young, fire-prone stands, remove ladder fuels, brush regrowth in our existing fuel break, and use all this small diameter woody material to produce biochar. Biochar produced at each kiln site will then be applied back into the forest soils.

Why biochar in the forest?
Charcoal from historic wildfires is an important component of soil that has been depleted in forests where fire has been excluded. Western forests, including Usal Redwood Forest, are now extremely fire-prone, so a wildfire would likely have a catastrophic impact on both soil and vegetation. We can start to simulate the beneficial effects of a natural fire regime by both reducing the severity of a future wildfire and reintroducing biochar into the forest soils.

Additionally, biochar restores beneficial soil properties and mitigates climate change. Biochar works like a sponge, and becomes an important water holding component in the soil. It can also have an especially beneficial effect on the nutrient cycling and the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. The process of creating biochar, versus ash which results from a conventional burn, retains a significant amount of carbon on-site in the form of biochar, preventing the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Biochar production and application in place also contributes to mitigating climate change.

Although many studies and historical practices have shown the beneficial effects of biochar, with this project we will be monitoring soil properties where biochar is applied. We will measure soil carbon, soil moisture and vegetation condition prior to biochar application and regularly after biochar application so that we can determine how biochar affects the soils and vegetation on Usal Redwood Forest.

While demonstrating the feasibility of using kilns to produce biochar in a forestry setting and beginning a soil study to look at how biochar affects redwood soils, this project will result in hazardous fuel reduction in our proposed shaded fuel break area. Our goal is to have a better understanding of what the feasibility and cost of operating kilns will be, what the benefits of biochar in forest soils are, and whether we can incorporate the practice regularly for fuel reduction, carbon storage and soil remediation on Usal Redwood Forest.

We will be planning a public event, likely in late November, for all who are interested in seeing the kilns in action. Depending on the status of COVID 19, this event may be virtual. Please contact me at karen@rffi.org if you are interested in attending the biochar kiln demonstration event on Usal Redwood Forest.

The Ring of Fire portable kiln is 77 inches diameter, 44 inches tall and 238 pounds. The CCC crew will set up, load and operate the kilns.

Young dense stands will be thinned by the CCC crew to provide fuel for biochar.

Old Burn Piles

Existing, old burn piles too hazardous to burn conventionally will also provide material for the biochar kilns.

Fuel break maintenance is essential. We will cut thick brush in the existing Yokahama Fuel Break and test the feasibility of kiln use for processing removed woody material into biochar.