Climate Matters: Looking at the firewood part of the equation

Z-NET and BackTrack team looking on as Bob Crouch indicates good firewood.
Z-NET and BackTrack team looking on as Bob Crouch indicates good firewood.

Z-NET Uralla has started a new phase in the shire’s transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.

The Z-NET Blueprint showed that firewood is a large component of the energy mix – not surprising given the winter temperatures we experience and the poor thermal performance of homes.

More than 75 per cent of our households stay warm by burning firewood from May to September. Well-insulated homes use much less, while homes that also harness the winter sun can stay comfortable with just the occasional fire.

Firewood is a valuable source of energy, it is relatively cheap especially when households collect their own, and it is an important part of the “sharing” economy in the Uralla Shire, with collectors supplying a number of close family members, the elderly and friends.

Our goal is to give people 'permission' to ask that awkward question – 'Was this firewood sustainably harvested?'.

Firewood is a form of bioenergy and is renewable, if harvested in a sustainable manner (leaving habitat and ensuring young trees are replacing old).

However, as with any energy source there are drawbacks with its use. Wood smoke is a health hazard, especially in towns where smoke pools in valleys.

Dead wood provides habitat for wildlife, reducing soil erosion and improving nutrient cycling and land productivity. Each tonne of dry wood contains the equivalent of 0.96 kg urea, 0.77 kg of single super and 0.70 kg of lime – all expensive and valuable nutrients.

"The Elephant in the Woodlands" is raising awareness and encouraging sustainable practices amongst landholders, firewood collectors and firewood users. The project runs for three years, supported by NSW government through its Environmental Trust, private donations and Z-NET Uralla volunteers.

Project partners are BackTrack, Uralla Shire Council, SNELC, NT LLS and scientists at UNE, plus three local landholders (Balala Station, Lana and Barrakee) who are demonstrating how biodiversity assessments can identify low impact firewood sites.

Our goal is to give people “permission” to ask that awkward question – “Was this firewood sustainably harvested?”.

Training programs are available to landholders and firewood collectors to enable them to tap into the market for sustainable firewood.

The project is supporting existing community-based programs for improving home thermal efficiency, reducing energy demand in the first place and promoting effective firewood storage and use. We are also helping people look at alternative heating as the combination of reverse cycle AC, solar panels and batteries can deliver low greenhouse gas emissions heating and avoid all that mess and work that firewood brings.

These goals are supported with an ongoing education campaign through media, at community events and in schools to raise awareness of the ecological value and importance of standing and fallen timber and promote the use of sustainable firewood.

Find out more at www.zneturalla.org.au

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