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USDA Small Business Grant Leads to Erosion Control Breakthrough

June through September is wildfire season in the United States and on June 18 there were already 16 active major fires consuming more than 102,000 acres.  As much damage and destruction these fires cause, even more may be on the way when future rains cause mudslides from soil erosion on barren hills.  That’s where “Woodstraw” comes in.

WoodStraw® is a wood-based erosion control product that was developed by Forest Concepts, in Auburn, WA, using a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  This material is made from low-grade waste wood veneer and resembles oversized pick-up sticks.  Wood-based erosion control products have many advantages over traditional grass straw as an erosion-control material because it is heaver and will not blow away, is 100 percent seed and weed-free, and is effective on slopes of up to 70 percent grade.

SBIR grants come in two forms: Phase I and Phase II.  A 6-month Phase 1 grant allows grantees to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed projects – and gives the government a chance to determine the quality of the grantee’s performance before awarding Phase II funding.  Phase II provide funding to awardees to continue their research and development efforts for up to 2 years.

Forest Concepts proved its wood-based erosion control theory in initial field trials, where the product reduced erosion by more than 98 percent; it proved to be especially effective in reducing erosion in areas that have been impacted by forest fires.  Since 2006, the company has produced more than 14,000 tons of material for projects managed by the U.S. Forest Service; the Bureau of Land Management; national parks; and state, county, and city departments of transportation and parks.  It has been used in more than 30 post-wildfire erosion control projects.

In 2012, Forest Concepts sold a license to Mountain Pine Manufacturing, Inc., to produce wood-based erosion control materials in Steamboat Springs, CO.  Mountain Pine uses dead, beetle-kill trees to produce material.  This process helps answer the region’s beetle-kill problem and provides engineered mulch that promotes regeneration of new live trees.  Production at both facilities creates sustainable jobs in the erosion control and biomass production and supply industries.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future.  More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.

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