Too much fire…
As residents of the Methow Valley since 2008, Tom and Gina McCoy were horrified but not surprised by the Carlton Complex fire of 2014 – the largest in Washington State history at the time. The husband-and-wife team had long professional experience in landscape ecology, including the interactions between forest health and wildfire. However, over the next several years, recurring extreme wildfires in the Methow watershed forced repeated evacuations of entire communities, destroyed many tens of thousands of acres of forest and resulted in property loss and fatalities. It became clear that extreme, uncontrollable wildfire was the new normal.
The real surprise came in January 2019 when the local newspaper published a list of the 10 most at-risk communities in the state: three were in the Methow valley. It was clear that our vital, carbon-storing dry forests and nearby communities are at extreme and rising risk. Existing management practices were not adequate.
Tom and Gina already understood it is the combination of climate change and severely overstocked forests that creates the conditions for unnaturally behaving mega-fires. Also, that the primary problem to be addressed was the ‘unmerchantable’ fuels on the landscape. In contrast with the merchantable logs that are profitable to harvest, these are the low value small trees and slash that cost money to remove. For decades, federal land management agencies have not been funded to undertake the costly work to address this well understood problem. So, what to do?
Gina purchased and read a textbook on biomass combustion. After all, if there is no other value, controlled combustion can at least produce energy. She was seeking valuable uses that could pay the cost of removal and transportation of unmerchantable (‘waste’) biomass. Clearly, to keep transportation costs low, what was needed was local processing facilities. That was when she became aware of biochar production. Only later did she learn of the potential of biochar to help address carbon distribution from areas of excess to areas of deficiency.
Tom and Gina have a rich history of collaborating on landscape-scale ecosystem restoration, so it didn’t take long for Tom to grasp the significance of establishing local biomass conversion facilities. Nor did it take long for them to begin to appreciate the importance of biochar. They decided to form a nonprofit dedicated to forest protection, based on paying the costs of removing and transporting the unmerchantable materials generated by restoration treatments. The challenge was to develop economically self-sufficient biochar production. Thus, C6 was founded in December 2019.
C6 Forest to Farm
566 Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Rd.
Winthrop, WA 98862