PRINEVILLE - Contractors, forestry consultants, Forest Service researchers, and Oregon State University professors and extension agents gathered on the Crooked River National Grassland Sept. 24 to observe the performance of a $420,000 machine used to bundle biomass material.

About 35 people examined the operational performance and soil impaction of the 149OD Energy Wood Harvester as it collected residue from Juniper stands previously thinned on the grassland. The machine then bundled it into 10-foot long, 30-inch diameter slash logs that can be transported by logging trucks.

The demonstration was part of a summer-long National Fire Plan project that brought Forest Service research scientists, contractors, environmentalists and timber industry representatives to eight sites in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California.

According to Bob Rummer, a Forest Service southern research station project leader, preliminary findings indicated benefits include the equipment's minimal visual impact, ability to dispose of slash without burning and recovery of biomass material.

Remaining issues include initial capital costs, cost-effective highway transportation, lack of markets for the bundles in some places and value of biomass offsetting operational costs.

The equipment's operational costs depend upon the amount of material to be collected, Rummer said. For example, collecting 50 tons of slash from one acre can cost more than $1,000. But bundling 10 tons from an acre could be achieved for $300.

Scandinavians have used the machines extensively to bundle tree limbs, brush and other small woody material for heat or energy generation. Finland now generates about 15 percent of its electricity from biomass material, Rummer said.

Markets for wood chips exist in Central Oregon. The future of biomass facilities such as on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs depends upon stable supplies.

"Selling the package (bundles); that's the other challenge," said Wade Fagen, president of Fagen Trees and Chips. "Years ago we were just running over slash, now it has economic value."

Rummer said bundle utilization discussions have included using them for stream stabilization, wood chips, erosion control and firewood collection. For more slash bundler information, log onto: www.fs.fed.us/fmsc/sdu/biomass.

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