Forest and range soils in the western U.S. are in need of restoration for a variety of reasons, such as overgrazing, fire, health. Disposing of the woody slash left by restoration cuttings has been a problem for many years. Managers often burn the slash in open air to reduce wildfire risk, but this practice damages the soil, limits successful regeneration on the burn sites, and encourages invasive weeds. Creating biochar is one method to sequester carbon and improve soil water holding capacity. Using biochar also decreases the risk of wildfire and increases tree resistance to insect and disease outbreaks. Forest Service researchers offer several alternatives that produce a viable byproduct: biochar. Biochar, charcoal used as a soil amendment, increases the water holding capacity of the soil and increases aboveground vegetation growth. The researchers describe how to build slash piles, use traditional kilns, small-sized kilns, and a rotary kiln to produce biochar. Excess biomass can be converted into biochar and used on-site or transported for agricultural uses. Biochar creates a new market for timber purchasers to consider when bidding on harvest units. More wide-spread use of kilns or other methods to create biochar can help lessen the future risk of wildfire and improve forest health. The study’s key findings are:
(1) Biochar can easily be made on site using a variety of low-tech methods.
(2) Biochar increases soil water holding capacity and can limit the effects of insect, disease, or drought. And,
(3) Biochar can be a revenue stream for timber purchasers.