Operational characteristics, erosion potential, and implementation of forestry best management practices on biomass harvesting operations

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Virginia Tech


Utilization of woody biomass for energy is expected to increase rapidly and logging residues are a likely feedstock to meet increased demands. Potentials for increased biomass utilization have created concerns regarding possible impacts of using logging residues for energy. The overall goals of this project were to characterize biomass harvesting operations and to evaluate potential impacts on soil erosion and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for water quality on biomass harvesting sites. Results indicate that biomass harvesting was integrated into a wide range of logging businesses. Existing biomass harvesting businesses reported total production levels ranging from 6 to 250 loads per week. The majority (98%) of biomass harvesting operations utilized integrated harvesting techniques where roundwood and fuel chips were produced concurrently. Potential erosion rates and BMP implementation scores were evaluated on ten biomass and ten conventional harvest sites in the Piedmont of Virginia.

This study of 20 sites found no significant differences in overall estimated erosion rates between biomass harvests (0.7 tons ac-1 yr-1) and conventional harvests (0.8 tons ac-1 yr-1) (p=0.8282). Additionally, there were no significant differences observed in overall BMP implementation scores for biomass (85.2%) and conventional (81.3%) harvests (p=0.5930). A separate, but related study evaluated BMP implementation over a three year period on 88 biomass and 284 conventional harvests in the Piedmont of Virginia. Within the seven logging related BMP categories, only the Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) category had significant differences between biomass (83.1%) and conventional harvests (91.4%) (p=0.0010). Implementation score differences were not caused by insufficient residues for stabilization of bare soil but were apparently the result of operational decisions which resulted in lower implementation of BMPs related to SMZs. Overall, these findings indicate that existing BMPs appear adequate to protect water quality on biomass harvesting operations in the Virginia Piedmont when appropriately implemented.



logging residues, biomass harvesting, renewable energy, BMP implementation