BACKYARD WILDERNESS, SWITCHGRASS BIOFUEL, RESTORIN
In Iowa and Tennessee, researchers are working on a new energy future where gas comes from grass.
In Iowa and Tennessee, we see a new energy future where gas comes from grass. Researchers are working with different types of grasses and other cellulosic plant material, learning more about what it's going to take to grow our own fuel. In the first of a series of stories about the biofuel revolution, host Bruce Burkhardt takes us to the frontlines where farmers grow switchgrass, sourgum and miscanthus specifically as renewable fuel sources. Unlike most wilderness areas that are remote and hard to access, the San Gabriel Mountains are within easy reach of the Los Angeles urban sprawl. Less than an hour from downtown, the San Gabriels are home to alpine forests, chaparral hills, clear trout-filled streams and the often snow-capped 10,068-foot Mt. Baldy, L.A. County's tallest peak. Most of the range is in the Angeles National Forest, which gives L.A. County more than one-third of its drinking water, 70 percent of its open space, and scenic and critical natural habitat. The mountains are now the centerpiece of an imaginative plan for a 600,000-acre national recreation area with large portions of the National Forest, 36,000 acres of additional wilderness, 44 miles of wild and scenic rivers and creeks, and park-poor lower river urban areas, an idea that would bond L.A.'s 17 million residents even closer to the natural wonders in their backyard. Many students in the frontier-like setting of Kanab, Utah are from families who have been in the region for generations. But some are learning for the first time the importance of protecting native plants, tackling invasive species, and coming up with a balance for the human needs of farming and raising livestock. Targeting the invasive-threatened and protein-rich "winter fat" plant, they harvested seeds, sprouted them in their high school greenhouse, then transplanted them to an acre-sized test exclosure in the magnificent Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. With instruction from experts, they mapped each plant with portable GPS devices so they could track their progress. Western wildfires can move swiftly and leave massive destruction. Researchers also have to move quickly, after a fire, to begin the restoration of water and wildlife in these ecosystems. We see how some powerful new tools are making their job a little easier.