DENVER – A resolution supporting research, development and use of biochar unanimously passed both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly this week.
It will be sent to a long list of government officials, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado’s congressional delegation.
Resolutions are sometimes referred to as “lists to Santa Claus” by legislators because they have no power but represent a request from the Colorado General Assembly.
Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Manitou Springs, said the resolution is a yearly occurrence that was initially brought forward by former Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango.
Biochar is the product of a process called pyrolysis, which is the breakdown of organic materials, in this case trees, at high temperatures with low oxygen, that occurs during such events as forest fires.
The material can be used for such things as fertilizer, reforestation efforts and water-filtering systems. It’s a potential source of income for the Forest Service to subsidize the cost of wildfire-mitigation efforts, according to the resolution.
Because of its value, biochar and the many aspects of the state’s economy that are affected by wildfires, Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont said the resolution should not be viewed as another “letter to Santa Claus.”
“This resolution here goes straight to the heart of all of those thing,” Singer said. “When you talk about saving lives, innovating an industry, increasing tourism and at the same time actually creating a new private industry, this is what biochar is about. This is what we can do to create a healthier economy, a healthier environment and hopefully at the end of the day actually save human life by reducing the number of wildfire fatalities in the state of Colorado.”
J.R. Ford, a Pagosa Springs businessman, has been exploring biochar production and distribution, and believes it could be a viable community-based industry in Southwest Colorado if research was expanded and regulations put in place by the federal government, he said.
“I think we’re just a little bit behind, on the government, but we’ve been behind because no one has had a big enough commercial quantity going out that they’ve had to expand the market,” Ford said.
While Ford’s endeavor to produce biochar is in the beginning stages, he said his firm would be able to treat between 1,000 and 1,200 acres of land a year once off the ground.
That would reduce fuel loads on the land, which would make them more wildlife friendly by reducing debris and overgrowth while also reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfires that could damage habitats or homes, he said. The work is being done in accordance with Forest Service standards under a contract Ford was awarded in 2012.
Ford envisions a community-based model allowing towns such as Pagosa Springs and Durango to be less reliant on attracting outside interests for economic growth, while also improving environmental health, he said.
“We actually could have an industry here where we’re thinning our forests and fixing our watersheds and then also making local jobs and making a product that we could ship out,” he said.