A March 21st Biomass to Biochar Conference drew 90 people from four states to the small town St. Regis in Mineral County, Montana (pop. 1,100). The diverse and enthusiastic crowd included biochar and forest products experts, farmers, researchers and rural community outreach specialists from federal, state and local government, universities, industry and the conservation community. What convergence of factors created this kind of biochar buzz in a remote timber community?
Several years ago, the Mineral County Challenge was launched under the leadership of Mineral County Extension and Dunrovin Research with the intention to expand sustainable economic opportunity. Tricon Lumber, a leading local industry, was seeking innovations in generating on-site heat and energy and to maximizing their value-added products. Meanwhile U.S. Forest Service managers and researchers were exploring ways to improve forest health and wisely use the abundance of biomass generated by insect-killed trees and a backlog of thinning. Community leaders were looking for ways to create jobs and improve the local economy. Farmers and foresters wanted to improve soils, and conservationists wanted all of the above but to ensure that any proposed actions were sustainable and environmental quality maintained.
Early in the Mineral County Challenge, Dunrovin Research and the U.S. Biochar Initiative crossed paths and began to work together to bring biochar into the mix to help address many of these concerns. The progressive leadership of Tricon Lumber soon saw many potential benefits of adding biochar to their production stream and since, have worked actively to find the technology and support from biomass suppliers. Interest grew among so many entities that it was clearly time for a gathering this spring.
Panels of experts throughout the day covered topics ranging from an introduction to biochar, the need for forest restoration, sources for and utilization of biomass, emerging uses of biochar, biochar technology, markets and environmental concerns and current research on biochar. The following day participants toured Tricon facilities and a nearby forest restoration project.
Participants and others will stay connected and active through www.TheMontanaChallenge.net. If you’re interested in following and contributing, just request the password and join the conversation!