Woodcache PBC

Understanding the Utilization of Woody Biomass Through the Perspectives of Southwest United States Forest Service Land Managers: A Qualitative Study

Mary-Ellen Rayna
University of Montana Graduate Student Theses
Peer Reviewed: No
Year Published: 2022

Key Takeaways:

  • Land managers expressed anxiety about accelerating the pace and scale of forest restoration, with one respondent noting “honestly, we are on borrowed time.”
  • The primary objectives noted by respondents were to reduce hazard fuels (60% of respondents) and protect/promote habitat for wildlife (50% of respondents).
  • Respondents expressed that “if a market were available to take woody biomass material, they would. almost always use it.”
Understanding the utilization of woody biomass through the perspectives of southwest united states forest service land managers: a qualitative study
This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Is Forest Fuel Reduction a Sustainable Source of Biomass?


Dry ponderosa pine/mixed conifer stands in the Southwestern United States create an overabundance of woody biomass during restoration and fuel treatments. It has been the job of land managers and resource specialists to develop management goals and practices to treat stands and lower the risk of catastrophic wildfires while managing for accumulations of woody biomass. Knowing the limitations, setbacks, and successes will help researchers, the United States Forest Service, and other land managers better improve woody biomass utilization. In conjunction with three previous ForBio Southwest studies, we present results from ten phone interviews from three Arizona and New Mexico ranger districts. Our results sought to understand how woody biomass affects the implementation and subsequent forest restoration and fuel treatment outcomes and understand land managers’ and resource specialists’ opinions about woody biomass markets and products. Trade-offs for land managers and specialists on managing woody biomass could be summarized into three categories: 1) market availability, 2) treatment cost, and 3) ecosystem health. Our results found that land managers relied on prescribed fires to treat the material in districts with limited biomass utilization facilities. Hauling distances, paired with the low biomass value, were a limitation for removal. Some participants saw the success of landscape-scale restoration depended on the ability to grow industry capacity at a scale that can match the need for restoration. By expanding partnership and collaboration, economic incentives, and economic diversity, the Southwest biomass utilization market has the potential for future growth and success.