by Josh Schlossberg
The first and only electronic map tracking logging sites sourcing wood to a biomass energy facility has been released by Energy Justice Network, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization with field offices in Vermont, Pennsylvania and Oregon, and Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in Vermont and the UK.
The initial phase of the McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project—funded by a grant from the Fund for Wild Nature—maps logging sites in Vermont that provided wood to the McNeil Generating Station in 2010, a 50-megawatt biomass power incinerator in Burlington. The map overlays nearly 150 forest sites logged in 2010—along with several photo galleries—on a satellite map of Vermont using Google Maps.
Each logging site is marked with an icon of a stump with further zooming in revealing a transparent blue polygon outlining the exact location of the cutting. Clicking on the stump brings up relevant data including acreage, town, property owner, logger, forester, date logged and documentation of the associated scans taken from Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department maps.
The McNeil project is integrated into Energy Justice Network’s Dirty Energy Mapping Project which pinpoints the locations of existing and proposed biomass and waste incinerators, nuclear reactors, natural gas and coal-fired power plants in the U.S. and documents grassroots community resistance to those facilities.
Once completed, the McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project will map logging for both the McNeil station and the 25-megawatt Ryegate Biomass Incinerator (in Ryegate, Vermont) over a ten year period from 2002-2012 to depict the actual forest footprint of industrial scale biomass energy. The finished project will include dozens of photo galleries showing on-the-ground impacts of biomass energy logging projects.
The maps of the logging operations—scanned from hard copies and replicated by hand using Google Maps—were accessed through the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife which has been tasked by the Vermont State Legislature to pre-approve management plans to log forests providing wood to the McNeil and Ryegate biomass power incinerators. Final biomass logging projects are approved by foresters employed by the McNeil facility and its co-owner Burlington Electric Department, with Fish and Wildlife officials rarely making site visits in advance of the logging and never after logging has taken place.
An estimated one-half to two-thirds of the wood fueling the McNeil incinerator is sourced from New York State, where logging sites are neither tracked nor made available to the public, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Vermont is the only state in the U.S. requiring that a state agency keep track of forests logged for some biomass energy facilities.
The McNeil biomass incinerator burns an estimated 400,000 green tons of wood per year—seventy-six tons, or thirty cords, of whole-tree chips per hour—along with a small percentage of natural gas, according to Burlington Electric Department. The wood fueling the McNeil incinerator consists of 70 percent trees and woody materials cut directly from the forest, 25 percent from “residues” (wood chips and bark from local sawmills) and 5 percent from recycled wood. Along with tree tops and limbs (which contain the highest level of nutrient content of any part of the tree), the McNeil facility burns whole trees, as has been documented in this photograph.
McNeil sources its wood from “integrated harvest” logging operations, which typically involves “whole-tree” logging and includes clearcuts up to twenty-five acres, housing developments, and forest “thinning.” Whole-tree logging is more intensive than traditional logging since it removes the nutrient rich tree tops and branches from the forest which could otherwise provide habitat, prevent erosion and enrich forest soils. Along with wood for the incinerator, these “integrated harvests” also provide lumber, paper pulp and firewood. Some trees that could be used for furniture, paper pulp, particle board, firewood, mulch, compost (and occasionally lumber) are instead burned for electricity at less than 25 percent efficiency—effectively wasting three out of four trees.
“For the first time we’re showing the direct impact on forests from biomass incineration,” said Aaron Kreider, web developer for Energy Justice Network and lead designer of the mapping project. “Can you imagine what the impact of McNeil will be during its entire lifetime? Can you imagine what could happen to our forests if we convert dozens of large coal plants to biomass?”
At twenty-six years old, Burlington’s McNeil Generating Station is one of the nation’s longest operating biomass power incinerators. The incinerator is sited adjacent to the low-income, ethnically-diverse Old North End neighborhood, 200 yards from the nearest residence. McNeil is Vermont’s largest polluter, according to Planet Hazard.com.
In a recent controversy, the City of Burlington, Vermont’s Draft Climate Action Plan reported only a fraction of the carbon dioxide (CO2) smokestack emissions from McNeil—hindering the city’s efforts to accurately measure and reduce its carbon footprint, according to critics. The 50-megawatt facility is jointly owned by Burlington Electric Company, Green Mountain Power and Vermont Public Power Supply Authority.
More than 200 electricity-generating, wood-burning biomass power incinerators currently operate in the U.S., with another 200 proposed, according to Forisk Consulting. Though more and more of these facilities are being built across the nation—due, in large part, to generous federal and state “renewable” energy subsidies and incentives—the ecological footprint of existing industrial-scale biomass energy facilities has yet to be adequately assessed.
“Even as forest protection is increasingly recognized as one of the best defenses against climate change—while also critical to protecting water, soils and biodiversity—governments are putting into place policies and subsidies to cut and burn forests the world over for ‘biomass’ electricity and heat,” said Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an international organization based in the U.S. and UK. “They falsely refer to this as ‘clean, green and renewable,’ but it is a total disaster in the making.”
The McNeil Biomass Forest Mapping Project will make the logging operations for the McNeil and Ryegate biomass incinerators transparent and accessible to industry, government, media, scientists and members of the public, allowing for the documentation of actual, on-the-ground impacts associated with forest biomass energy. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide a model for a comprehensive, national assessment of the total forest footprint of industrial-scale biomass energy facilities to gauge current and future ecological impacts.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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