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EcoWorks' Sustainability Intern - Biochar Project Update

Crew removing invasive vine at HCC Campus, crew cutting up thick vines and hauling them away
Crew removing invasive vine at HCC Campus

Featuring Matt, Tyler, Ewurafua, and Catherine
Crew and Jazlyn

Hello, Howard EcoWorks Community! My name is Jazlyn Benitez, I am the Environmental Sustainability Intern at Howard EcoWorks! I am a MD native and currently in grad school to earn my M.S. in Sustainability Management. 

I am thrilled to be able to share the first update of a current project that Executive Director, Lori Lilly, and I have been working on in partnership with Kip Mumaw at Ecosystem Services and Dr. Paul Imhoff at the University of Delaware. Through the support of a Howard County Innovation Grant, we are bringing together a holistic approach to forest, stream and soil management that maximizes ecosystem service benefits. In one of our projects, we are collaborating with Howard Community College to offer forest-edge restoration efforts that will improve soil quality and eliminate harmful invasive species. 

The restoration effort is taking place adjacent to the Howard County Community Soccer Fields just on the edge of campus, off of Hickory Ridge Road. The surface area of the site Howard EcoWorks will be treating is about 0.3 acres! Here is an aerial view of the site—outlined in yellow is the Howard EcoWorks treatment site. This map is courtesy of the Howard County Interactive Map.

Shows a birds eye view where the working site is highlighted in green around an athletic field
Aerial view of working site

In addition to following Howard EcoWorks’ mission of providing resiliency to local forests by removing invasive species, this project will also provide a stepping stone to evaluate the soil quality by burning the removed invasive species into a soil amendment known as biochar

biochar close up

Biochar is a soil amendment that is created from organic waste that has been burned under conditions of very limited oxygen. When burned, the resulting product is very rich in carbon, increases water retention and has been shown to increase the productivity of plants - hence its historical use in agriculture. The quality and amount of biochar produced is largely dependent on the type of feedstock (organic waste being burned) and the temperature at which the material is burned. Utilizing a soil amendment such as biochar is also not only great for plant growth, but it also sequesters carbon and prevents additional CO2 emissions from entering the atmosphere through decomposition, for many years to come.

red device being held by hands with red gloves
Moisture Meter

Pictured (Moisture Meter) is a tool that calculates the soil moisture content at a given moment in time. Prior to breaking ground, I went around our project sites and took measurements of the soil moisture prior to starting the restoration efforts. Once the biochar has been distributed across the forest edge in late spring, I hope to have several soil moisture content readings over the next year that will indicate the change in soil quality due to the introduction of biochar. 

For this particular project in Howard Community College, a very prevalent invasive species covering large masses of the forest edge was Autumn Olive. Along with other various invasive vines and smaller species, the crew at Howard EcoWorks was able to safely cut all of the invasives to make biochar.  The material was hauled to a local site where the harvested invasive plant material will dry out over the winter months. In early spring 2024, Howard EcoWorks crews will return to begin the burning process and produce biochar. We welcome you to attend the event to learn more - stay tuned to our social media pages and Events website!

Howard EcoWorks hopes to utilize this project as a learning opportunity to demonstrate a more integrated approach to forest and woodland management through invasive species conversion to biochar in order to improve forest productivity and overall ecosystem function. Howard EcoWorks hopes to add this to their service delivery model as well as generally educate the public about the benefits of biochar. 


A young woman with medium long straight brown hair, a purple blouse, with the capital building in the background
Jazlyn Benitez
About the Author:

Jazlyn Benitez is from Silver Spring, MD and just recently graduated from St. Mary’s College of MD with a BA in Economics and Environmental Studies. Jazlyn is currently studying at American University’s Kogod School of Business for a MS in Sustainability Management while embarking on her Environmental Sustainability Internship here at Howard EcoWorks. Jazlyn enjoys swimming, going out to enjoy the Bay, and trying new places to eat!

Biochar project

Forest restoration

Invasive species management

Soil quality improvement

Sustainable soil management

Soil moisture content

Carbon sequestration

Environmental sustainability

Sustainable land management

Soil health

Biochar production

Forest-edge restoration

Howard Community College

Invasive species removal

Soil amendment

Forest productivity

Ecosystem function

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