Wasted Resources

August 4, 2015

Today like many days during the summer I sat outside and looked at the smoke from a forest fire. It’s not too thick right now here in Helena, but it’s there. I thought I’d write about this topic because I recently had an opportunity to expand my perspective of the current situation.

Back in June I took a trip to visit my mother in Northwest Montana. I decided to take the scenic rout through Lincoln. I can tell you I was sorely disappointed by the scenery.

Just between here and Lincoln there are vast stands of dead trees. You can tell by the color of the trees that they have been dead for several years. By now I’m sure I don’t have to remind anybody that we could have, and should have done something about that stupid beetle. That’s old news. What is bothering me now is why these trees are still standing.

In recent years environmentalists have made a huge effort here in Montana to restrict the use of wood burning stoves. Granted this form of air pollution is a legitimate concern, especially for those with health problems like asthma.

I’ve read through countless pages of reports. At face value, estimates of the number of homes using wood heat during the winter compared to hospital visits for related illness is compelling. I don’t deny that one can actually see the light haze created by wood burning stoves on particularly cold days. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to ignore the contrast when your eyes are burning from the smoke from another one of our annual forest fires.

I do know that government agencies have caved to pressure to a degree. I have seen some of their buck and scatter efforts, which do reduce fire danger a bit. I also know full well that such efforts, particularly in remote areas come with a substantial price tag. The logistics alone is an expensive obstacle to any effective effort. Sadly this concern rarely receives as much consideration when the objective is to protect nature from people.

As a conservative I place the health and safety of human beings above that of furry critters. Additionally, I always have my eyes open for new solutions to fiscal problems. So here’s my suggestion. Wood Gasifier Electrical Power Plants.

Wood Gasifier technology has been around for more than 70 years. For those of you who don’t already know, a wood gasifier turns wood smoke into fuel. The majority of designs I have seen use this wood gas to run internal combustion engines. They are relatively simple to build, they are genuinely carbon neutral, and they work. This isn’t some crackpot Solindra type deal.

During the second World War gasoline was unobtainable in parts of Europe. This technology kept countless civilians mobile, and was even implemented in some military vehicles when things got really bad.

If I have provoked your curiosity at this point, I’ll let you know that FEMA has a report that if free and available to the public on this exact topic. In fact this report even provides instructions to build one of these systems in the event of any situation where gasoline or diesel fuel is unobtainable. So what’s the catch?

From the Conservative side this is a win win situation. With every Montanan feeling the effect of rising energy costs from the relentless assault on our coal industry, any cost effective alternative energy project should be on the table. Although as a fuel source wood gas may not pack the same punch as coal, it is a heck of a lot easier to come by. The simple fact that you don’t have to dig is a heck of a difference especially considering reclamation costs. I shouldn’t even have to mention the potential jobs such a project could create. Power plants need workers, and our logging industry could potentially see a resurgence that has no parallel since the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Not to mention harvesting dead trees to use as fuel is considerably easier than harvesting healthy trees for lumber.

The Liberal Environmentalist side of this is not so straightforward. With the pollution argument completely out the window, they would have to fight hard on the side of nature Vs. human interest. Preservation of habitat is the argument I see getting the most traction. It is a fact that certain species thrive in these dense stands of dead trees, but others such as the Great Horned Owl are going extinct in part because they can’t hunt in dense forest. It is also a fact that the average Joe who goes out for fire wood may not pay close attention to whether or not a particular tree contains a nest of some kind. Logging companies on the other hand are already forced to make such considerations, and they generally do a pretty good job of it considering the potential fines.

I could write another ten pages of Liberal Environmentalist objections, and practical rebuttals. So I’ll just get to my point. Why is this idea not being discussed?

Most likely the answer is that it hasn’t yet been suggested in an informed and assertive manner. That’s for you and me to do, so as I’ve done in the past I will end this article with some contact information.

This is a situation that will ultimately require engagement with federal agencies, but I doubt I need to articulate our chances without our State Government. Yes, our legislature is not currently in session, but if you take the time to write a letter I promise they will get it. Whether or not they respond is up to them and definitely something you should consider next time you vote.

You can find direct contact information for your State Representative or Senator through the website leg.mt.gov

Governor Steve Bullock

Office of the Governor

P.O.Box 200801

Helena, MT 59620-0801

Representative (NAME)

Montana House of Representatives

P.O.Box 200400

Helena, MT 59620-0400

Senator (NAME)

Montana Senate

P.O.Box 200500

Helena, MT 59620-0500

Glenn W. Uncles Jr.

Helena, MT


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