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The reach of our Sonoma Biochar Initiative continues to grow, with SBI director Raymond Baltar – who is also executive director of the newly formed California Biochar Association – now making weekly trips to Mendocino County as a project manager for Redwood Forest Foundation, Inc., or RFFI.

Up in Mendo, Raymond has been braving rough terrain, inclement weather and even mudslides in order to get a new project off the ground for RFFI in which overabundant tanoaks in the 50,000-acre Usal Forest are being turned into biochar – making more room for the forest’s redwoods and conifers while producing a substance that is highly valuable to growers because it saves water, improves soil health and, as a bonus, sequesters carbon.

“Basically I’ve been running a startup,” Raymond said.

RFFI purchased a machine for turning the chipped tanoak into biochar, and Raymond oversaw the machine’s transportation over harrowing roadways and a too-narrow-for-comfort bridge.

“We had to move this large piece of equipment from Branscomb to Piercy, which is about 45 miles, and we had to do it in the late stages of the biggest winter on record,” Raymond said, noting that rains were causing mudslides on both Highway 1 and Highway 101. “We just made it through. But then there’s this bridge that we had to cross, which was also underwater for much of the time. It’s just a skinny little bridge” – about 8 feet wide – “so we had to get special trucks in order to ferry the equipment across.”

The result of these efforts, however, is an operation that RFFI hopes will help cover the costs of restoring the Usal Forest. Better yet, the project demonstrates how farming and forest management can complement each other – and with over a hundred million dead trees in the Sierras, plus California farmers desperate to save water, RFFI’s “forest to farm” biochar operation meets several of the state’s goals at once and could be replicated elsewhere.

Meanwhile, their high-quality biochar product, North Coast Biochar, is available by the cubic-yard for $300, in 1.5 cubic yard “supersacks” for $450, or by the truckload. Growers interested in making a purchase can contact Raymond at 707-291-3240 or