Jonathan Kusel owns three pickups and a 45-foot truck for hauling woodchip bins. He operates a woodchip yard and a 35-kilowatt biomass plant that burns dead trees, and he runs a crew marking trees for loggers working in national forests. Those are a lot of blue-collar credentials for a UC Berkeley PhD sociologist known for his documentation of how the decline of the timber industry affects rural communities.
What drove Kusel into a side business—logging small and dead trees and burning them in biomass boilers—is fear of fire. In 2007, the 65,000-acre Moonlight Fire blew flaming embers onto his lawn near Taylorsville, California, as he readied his family to evacuate. Last September, the Walker Fire scorched 54,614 acres just up the valley from the offices of the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment,