West Virginia University researchers will use a $64,000 grant from the USDA Forest Service to study ways to prevent forest fireswhich this year alone reportedly destroyed 85,000 acres of West Virginia woodland.

“Wild land fires have always posed a significant threat to the people and resources of West Virginia,”said Bruce Anderson, an assistant professor of wood science in WVU s Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences.

In 2000, state officials claim, wildfires caused an estimated $16 million in damage to West Virginia timber resources.

By-products of the logging process that remain on the ground in the form of logs, limb wood and tree tops, though beneficial in a number of ways, can pose a fire threat, Anderson said.

“While logging residue is a beneficial component of the forest ecosystem, providing habitat for many species of wildlife and a source of soil nutrients, it has the potential to increase the risk of fire by providing a dense, ground-level fuel source,”he added.

Anderson and his colleagues are proposing a pilot project to inventory wood left after harvest in some of West Virginias most fire prone counties, and then develop a marketing strategy for the logging residue.

“Studies have found that the highest levels of wood residue left after timber harvests are found in the southern part of West Virginia,”Anderson said.”These are the same 14 counties that have significant fire damage year after year.”

By re-inventorying logging residues in the affected areas, the team plans to estimate the volume of material available and use the data to develop a more accurate marketing strategy for the residue.

“The challenge in developing marketing strategies for logging residue can be broken down into two parts,”Anderson said.”First, we have to identify the nature of the residue remaining in the forests. Second, we have to identify economically viable markets for these by-products.”

One possibility for further use of this residue is to promote their use as an energy resource or fuel, Anderson said.”Until recently, there have been limited markets for wood fuel. This may change as energy demands in the United States force the energy industry to consider further development of supplementing fossil fuels with wood residues,”he added.

The 14 West Virginia counties to be examined in the study are Boone, Cabell, Clay, Fayette, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Nicholas, Raleigh, Wayne and Wyoming.

Joining Anderson on the project are Edward Murriner of the West Virginia Division of Forestry, Davis College research assistant Shawn Grushecky and David McGill, associate professor of forest resource management in the Davis College and specialist with the WVU Extension Service.