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The Potential Role of Bioenergy in Mitigating Wildfire in the West

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Record wildfire seasons continue across the US West, increasingly comprised of unnatural and catastrophic events owing to climate change, excessive fuel accumulation and development within the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).  The comprehensive costs of these wildfires are staggering, when considering costs of suppression, property and ecosystem degradation, carbon emissions, human health impacts, infrastructure damage including water, and numerous other direct and indirect effects.  To contain these costs, excess fuels must be removed to restore wildfire-resilient landscapes and to protect vulnerable communities.  Fuel treatments, in turn, entail significant costs, potentially combined with carbon emissions if wood waste is left to burn or decompose.  An oft-proposed solution is the development of wood waste markets including biofuels, potentially combined with carbon capture technologies.  To develop biofuels markets at the scale needed to address the growing wildfire problem in the West, a complete system must be designed including economic incentives recognizing multiple public values, and policies to stabilize supply sources and ensure adequate workforce development.