West Virginia University's Appalachian Hardwood Center receives US$246,596 state grant to develop training program to support loggers and green energy efforts that rely on forest byproducts

MORGANTOWN, West Virginia , January 3, 2011 (press release) – “Shovel-ready” has become a commonplace term since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Soon West Virginia University may help add “saw-ready” to the lexicon, thanks to a $246,596 grant from WorkForce West Virginia.

The grant has gone to the Appalachian Hardwood Center, a joint effort of WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and Extension Service. The money will be used to develop a collaborative training program to support West Virginia’s logging industry and, by extension, green energy efforts that rely on logging byproducts.

“The recent drive toward renewable energy sources has come at a time when key elements of the supporting infrastructure have weakened substantially,” said Ben Spong, principal investigator on the project and a forest operations specialist with WVU Extension.

An important component in the basket of fuel alternatives is the use of logging byproducts, or woody biomass, for green power generation. While biomass resources remain vibrant and growing, the ability of the logging industry to provide fuel for sustainable energy generation has suffered, in spite of aggressive incentives.

Depressed lumber markets over the last five years have affected the number of logs being supplied to mills and the availability of the subsequent bark, sawdust and chips byproducts from processing. With this downturn in production, the capacity of the industry to supply both logs and wood byproducts fuel feedstocks to the competing traditional and new biomass markets will be difficult.

In anticipation of expanding demand for woody biomass in and around West Virginia, success will ultimately be based on the ability of the logging industry to move feedstocks from the forest to the array of traditional markets and the new energy markets.

“The logger, as the vital first step in the woody biomass supply chain, must be prepared to take advantage of the market opportunities,” Spong said. “This will require having access to skilled employees.”

The Appalachian Hardwood Center, working with the West Virginia Division of Forestry and industry groups, will take an aggressive approach to increasing the pool of competent employees through an intensive pre-employment training program.

“This program will be innovative as we aggressively market and recruit participants and provide a complete basic training package that will allow successful participants to hit the ground running,” Spong explained. Participants that complete the training program will have all required training for eligibility to be certified by the State of West Virginia as a logger. These newly trained loggers will provide a boost to the employment pool of trained workers available to the current and anticipated expansion of the logging industry.

Spong anticipates that the first class of students will undertake the intensive, two-week training course in September of 2011.

The WVU grant derived from a $6 million award from the U.S. Department of Labor to support the WorkForce West Virginia’s efforts to provide “green-jobs” education and training. The West Virginia GREEN-UP Council along with five regional teams will coordinate grant activities.

The GREEN-UP Council, which consists of representatives from business, organized labor, nonprofit organizations, research firms, economic development, education providers and other groups, developed the green jobs education and training plan that helped obtain the $6 million grant.

The Appalachian Hardwood Center, housed in WVU’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, works to provide relevant, natural resource-based outreach and extension programs, technical assistance, and research for businesses, communities and individuals located in the Appalachian forest region. These efforts promote multiple uses of natural resources in ways that are sustainable and compatible.

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