Sustainable Forestry Project


Site Map

About Us



How to Help



Sustainable Communities, Inc. (SCZ) and Picuris Pueblo: Sustainable Forestry Project.

Small diameter trees (less than 9 inches) thinned from Picuris� forests (pinon, juniper, ponderosa) are not used to the greatest economic potential. There is an abundance of these trees thinned with little value added beyond firewood. Picuris Pueblo has a great need for economic development because of its 60% unemployment. SCZ, a Santa Fe based 50lc3 non profit connected to the international network, ZERI (Zero Emissions, Research and Initiatives), received a 2003 grant under the Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) project funded by the US Forest Service, for a pilot project to use the �waste� small diameter trees and the slash left in the forests for value added products. The five value added product areas proposed included the production of: (1) a natural wood charcoal; (2) preserved wood capturing and using the charcoal fumes; (3) native edible mushrooms on wood chips; (4) spent mushroom substrate after mushroom harvest as an animal feed supplement; and (5) a mushroom compost amendment for forest soil restoration.

Also implied in this pilot demonstration was the potential for replication everywhere in the state or country where thinned trees were being wasted. We are happy to report that after 2 l/2 years, our joint project has demonstrated all its stated goals and has demonstrated the successful production, independent testing, and potential for uses and sales of these products, as well as the promising application of native fungi inoculated wood chips on eroded forest soils.

Based on the success of the demonstration project, Picuris has formally decided to start a new forest based enterprise, with support from SCZ. Through the creation of this enterprise at Picuris using what would otherwise be �waste� trees and slash for unique products, the Pueblo will be able to have a sustainable enterprise for economic, ecologic and social benefits. Picuris needs to create local employment opportunities, and it is ideal to create new jobs using their natural resources judiciously and to have employment linked to the management and enhancement of their natural resources which is culturally compatible with their long standing tradition of living off the land. The new enterprise will be owned and operated by Picuris, and all thinning, monitoring and soil restoration activities as well as charcoal and preserved wood production will be done at Picuris.

This decision is further supported by infusion of state capital outlay funds to Picuris Pueblo for the necessary building and equipment for the new enterprise, obtained by Governor Bill Richardson and his Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Dept. and State Forestry Division. Photo at right shows the truck purchased with some of these funds. It will be used for forestry activities. Note the preserved wood from our pilot project that was used on the sides.

SCZ continues to work with Picuris Pueblo as we move from the final stages of the sustainable forestry pilot project towards commercialization. Thanks to the capital outlay funds, the mushroom lab and production facility, utilities and equipment are now being delivered and training will be provided by the first week in November. The charcoal and wood preservation units with equipment will be in place by the end of November with training also provided.

The markets being looked at for the Picuris products outside of the Pueblo are varied. Natural wood charcoal and edible mushroom markets in Northern New Mexico are natural foods grocery stores, farmer�s markets and restaurants. Preserved lumber markets are still being reviewed, but playground equipment is the most promising in terms of value added as wood treated with the conventional arsenicum is now prohibited from being used in children�s playground equipment. The spent substrate produced from commercial mushroom production will in part be used as an animal feed supplement for the bison at Picuris helping to reduce feed costs and grazing. Also, there is a market for a rich mushroom compost for vegetable gardens and plants which can be profitable, but use of the mushroom compost for forest soil restoration work, while not immediately economic, will support a healthier forest ecosystem at Picuris Pueblo long term.

Detailed progress in the five goals of the CFRP pilot project.

1. Charcoal and preserved wood.

Using small scale charcoal ovens built for the pilot, we have made a high quality natural wood charcoal product from a variety of thinned wood types including pinon, juniper, ponderosa, encino oak, ocate, salt cedar, and pecan. These charcoal types were independently tested against four of the leading wood charcoals on the market. The tests showed the charcoal produced at Picuris to be equal to and in many cases superior to (in terms of BTUs and ash content) the leading competitors. Additionally, lighter fluid is not needed to light this charcoal, and it burns hot, long and clean according to many of the Picuris residents who have been using it for cooking. Also, wood charcoal burns twice as hot as cut wood, is 50% lighter to transport, and will last in storage without degradation many years longer than firewood, so it is a good way to convert and store energy long term. See our comparison charcoal quality chart, and the charcoal web page.

2. Naturally preserved wood using charcoal production fumes.

During the charcoal making process, fumes are created which are captured and funneled into a secondary wood preservation chamber. We have had small samples of posts and milled wood treated continuously with the charcoal fumes for a total of 10 days and lab tested at Oregon State University, Corvalis, OR. The results show that the 10 days of charcoal fumes used to treat the wood had a noticeable inhibitory effect on wood degradation from microbial agents, presenting the real potential for use as a natural wood preservation treatment. We currently are having tests done on wood preserved with the charcoal fumes for 20 continuous days (recommended by our expert) which should be final by mid-October.

3. Edible native mushrooms.

In August of 2004, SCZ brought Ivanka Milenkovic, PhD Mycologist from Belgrade, Serbia, to train SCZ and Picuris folks in finding, identifying, culturing, preserving and producing the native fungi we collected at Picuris and northern New Mexico.

SCZ has cultivated and �banked� 18 species of native mushrooms in our Santa Fe lab to date, with six from Picuris, representing the beginning of a unique native NM fungi biological resource bank. Through our 2003 CFRP grant, we have been paving the way for demonstrating the use of much overlooked native fungi for both economic and ecologic opportunities. We have successfully produced (and eaten) the tasty local pleurotus (oyster) mushroom grown on pasteurized salt cedar and thinned cottonwood chips, and are now testing a variety of local edible mushrooms on other types of thinned wood types for market diversity.

There are many edible mushrooms that are delicious, contain protein but no fat, and sell at a good price (anywhere from $6 per pound to $15 or higher, depending on the mushroom type) which can be sold fresh, canned or dried. In 1997, the world production of cultivated mushrooms was estimated to be 6.2 billion dollars, with mushroom production in the US reached almost $880 million in 2004. In areas such as New Mexico where there is a great amount of waste biomass from forests or agriculture and rural communities struggling for economic opportunities, it makes good financial sense to get into mushroom production. See the mushroom project web page.

4. Mushroom Substrate animal feed supplement.

We have also had the oyster mushroom substrate (material left after mushrooms are harvested and the mushroom mycelium (roots) have �eaten� the wood) tested as a ruminant animal (cows, bison, goats, sheep, elk, deer, etc.) feed supplement in an independent lab in Serbia by Dr. Milenkovic and her colleague, Milan Adamovich, Phd (large animal veterinarian and nutritionist - both of whom work on related US Department of Agriculture international grants). These lab tests were done mixing corn silage with the substrate in varying percentages and the results have shown that the oyster mushroom salt cedar substrate, mixed with corn silage, is a digestible and nutritious feed supplement for ruminants. See report written by Drs. Adamovich and Milenkovic. Our next test will be working with the Picuris Bison Project and mixing the mushroom substrate with alfalfa to see how well the bison will actually like eating it. The bison there are range free and grass fed, and if the test is successful, it could help lower animal feed costs and reduce grazing pressures for other ranchers that use silage.

5. Mushroom compost and native fungi soil restoration monitoring.

While thinning small diameter trees (less than 9 inches) reduces fuels and fire risk, opens canopy to more sunlight, and allows larger and native trees and plants room to grow, the forest soils themselves are not usually the focus of restoration efforts, and it is healthy soil that will ultimately provide the organic materials and nutrients for the beneficial micro organisms for a healthy forest. Native fungi play a critical role in healthy forests � they aid in tree and plant decomposition, create nutrients and new soil, provide defenses against pests, maintain moisture, reduce erosion, and enable beneficial soil micro organisms to flourish that in turn provide the nutrients for the trees and plants which in turns helps the wildlife. The more complex the soil food web, of which fungi is critical, the more complex and healthier the forest is. Conversely, if a forest�s above-ground complexity is reduced � as it has been in our forests � whether through fire or logging, livestock grazing or pollutants - they are more prone to pests and drought. Picuris could use the mushroom substrate after harvest and make a rich, organic mushroom compost for sale.

Picuris Forest soil and test results.

Thinning small diameter trees at Chamisal has taken place over the last couple of years, and the soils within this forest are of poor quality and in need of enrichment. More than 200 baseline soil samples were taken by SCZ and Picuris in July, 2005 on ll eroded runs, four test plots each, before treatment with native fungi inoculated chips. Our baseline samples had shown poor quality soils in this forest � only l/2 inch of topsoil, l0-12 inches of dry hard clay with rocks beneath, and virtually no measurable organic matter.

In May, we took our second round of soil samples. We really didn�t expect much to have changed in less than one year after applying the fungi inoculated chips from nearby slash piles. To our pleasant surprise, while the forest floor was bone dry everywhere from lack of rain, under the chips it was not just moist but wet, and in some plots it appeared the topsoil had increased from about l/2 inch to l inch, and the underlying unbreakable clay soil had in some places started to break down and form a composite soil for several inches. Our respiration tests showed organic matter clearly measurable in some of the plots and as high as 3 times from last year, and finding a big fat worm in the soil under chips where no sign of soil life was found last year was a delight. Plants, flowers and grasses were growing out of the chips on the plots where there was little in the surrounding area. However, there were some plots that showed no improvement or even less improvement than the baseline, confirming our belief that one year of data from such a small sampling is not sufficient enough to draw conclusions and we need to find a way to collect at least two � three more years worth of data to have some statistically significant results. See report done by our biologists on the comparison of the baseline data to one year�s worth of data on our website. This type of restoration work has not been done in New Mexico and is pioneering a new way of enhancing soils and forest restoration, which could also benefit rangelands and agricultural lands.

CFRP project student and youth natural science education.

Given the need for land-based rural economic opportunities, and the need for our youth to develop stronger capacity in the sciences, this project has brought both aspects together where youth can learn about creating economic opportunities based on natural resources and how the natural sciences � particularly biology � can strengthen knowledge, self esteem and careers in the sciences and land based activities, help keep them in NM for jobs, and foster pride in restoring our environment. A number of youth and students at Picuris, Penasco High and Middle School, and other schools in Northern New Mexico have been exposed and trained in the mushroom lab work and related soil and forestry science activities.

End note.

We hope that within a year the new forest based enterprise at Picuris using the thinned small diameter trees and slash for value added products and for soil restoration will be a successful undertaking for social, cultural, economic and ecologic goals. We also know that continued thinning � whether small diameter or invasives such as salt cedar � will continue to present opportunities for other rural areas of the state and the west where little has existed previously and we look forward to working with interested communities in the future.

Lynda Taylor is Co-Director of Sustainable Communities, Inc. She can be reached at or 505-986-1454. SCZ�s website is for more information.


Timber and brush, from small diameter and invasive non native trees, is being cut under federal fire reduction programs. Our program converts these "waste" woods and pecan thinnings into higher value products: (1) natural wood charcoal from waste biomass wood with use of the fumes to naturally preserve other woods and (2) the native fungi culture lab for edible mushrooms, animal feed supplement, and mushroom compost for restoration activities in the thinned forests.

We received a grant in late 2003 from the US Forest Service's Collaborative Forest Restoration Program (CFRP) for a pilot project that will use small diameter timber that is already being cut under federal fire reduction programs. The timber and brush will be converted into several higher value products such as non-toxic charcoal for cooking and heating, wood preserved using the off gasses from the charcoal production, and native edible mushrooms, grown on the waste slash and chips. The spent mushroom substrate will help to restore the impacted areas with new humus and, after testing, may serve as animal feed for ruminants.

The project began April 2004 in a partnership with Picuris Pueblo and several other local organizations. We learned about culturing shitake mushrooms from Carmenza Jaramillo of Colombia, South America. In May Antonio Giraldo, also of Colombia, showed us how to make charcoal and preserve wood with the off gasses.

For a detailed article from Feb. 5, 2005 La Jacarita News, Northern New Mexico, go to Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM: Collaborative Forest Restoration Project By Kay Matthews and Mark Schiller.

SCZ will continue to test, evaluate, and develop ways to add valuable products that will make forestry more sustainable.

We presented a summary of our work at the Jan. 25 -27, 2005 CFRP Annual Workshop for more than 100 grant recipients in Santa Fe, NM. Our powerpoint presentations, and the poster with show and tell session were well received by the people at this conference.

For more details, link to the power point presentation with it's 48 slides that was presented to the Tamarisk 2005 Symposium Oct. 12, 2005 at Colorado State University and to the NM Mycological Society about our sustainable forestry work with emphasis on our mushroom lab and mushroom production on Mon. night, Nov. 7th, at the Natural History Museum in Albuquerque, NM.

Poster of the SCZ Sustainable Forestry project showing use of mushrooms on the right and use of "waste" wood to make charcoal and preserve wood on the left.

On June 8, 2005, Lynda Taylor, above, spoke to the Bureau of Land Management's Resource Advisory Council about all the SCZ projects and programs and especially about the Sustainable Forestry Project. The talk was very well received and several members are interested in a collaborative project around forestry and soil restoration.

Future Projects

ZERI International Projects

| Home | Site Map | About Us | Education | Projects | How to Help | Links |

Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM (SCZ)
(Our legal name is Sustainable Communities, Inc.)
P. O. Box 8017,
Santa Fe, NM 87504 USA
Phone: 505-820-0186
FAX: 505-986-6019

Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM is a public 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

This page was last updated on October 7, 2006

Copyright Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM, Inc. © 2006. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: for permission to use contents of this web site.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs are © 2001-2006 Lynda Taylor.