Beetle Kill 2009: Little bug, big business | SkyHiNews.com

Beetle Kill 2009: Little bug, big business

Drew Munro
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado

Those dead lodgepole pines covering vast swaths of Grand County may look red to most people, but a growing cadre of entrepreneurs sees gold.

So many, in fact, that they formed a trade association, based in Kremmling.

The mission of the Colorado Beetle Kill Trade Association (BKTA) “is to unite and align the self interests of business invested in or interested in the removal and recycling of standing beetle killed lodgepole pines in order to remove obstacles to the creation of a viable, vibrant and sustainable market for products utilizing beetle kill pines as raw material,” according to the organization’s Web site.

“No one company could do by itself and the government couldn’t do by itself,” said Association president, Lorne W. Curl.

It is too late to stop the devastation wrought in Northwest Colorado by Dendroctonus ponderosae, otherwise known as the mountain pine beetle, Curl said. However, it is not too late to stimulate industry, effectively raise the value of the dead trees and focus the business community on utilizing this vast resource, he said.

“We have to unite people who think like entrepreneurs,” he said. The “people will start bringing their own money to bear.”

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Noting that there are areas where “these trees absolutely must be brought down,” such as around power lines and in valuable watersheds, he said the best way to pay for mitigation is to find a “way for it to be beneficial to someone.”

And that, Curl said, is the role government is best suited to play in this epidemic.

“There needs to be a public-private partnership,” he said, wherein government invests in a supply system to make the raw material available rather than in individual businesses, and businesses develop ways to use and profit from the resource.

This is a particularly fortuitous time to pursue this goal, despite the economic slowdown, because of the federal government’s interest in developing alternative energy sources and the availability of stimulus money, Curl said.

Kremmling’s Confluence Energy, which began manufacturing Eco-Flame Pellets in August at Colorado’s first wood pellet plant, hopes to use beetle-kill trees as feedstock to create cellulosic ethanol, Mark Mathis, Confluence Energy CEO, told the Sky-Hi Daily News late last year.

“We are in a unique opportunity here to make Kremmling an epicenter of the renewable energy future for this country,” Mathis said. “We want to be producing wood pellets and ethanol.”

While some plans to do so may be temporarily on hold pending a rebound in oil prices, Curl said he believes ethanol produced from beetle kill trees can be competitive with oil at any price, given one factor ” an adequate and reliable supply of raw materials.

“There’s no supply system,” he said, which means most business people cannot justify making the requisite investments in equipment and other capital expenses.

If government and business are to take full advantage of this situation, they must act quickly, Curl said, so the trees can be used to their fullest extent before they begin to rot.

“Time is not our friend here,” he said.

Since the organization was founded in October 2008, BKTA membership has grown to nearly 100, Curl said.

Members listed on the BKTA Web site represent a vast array of enterprises related to the beetle kill epidemic: stove pellets, furniture, building logs, dimensional lumber, fence posts, paneling, fire wood, flooring, cabinets, benches, clocks, lazy Susans and doggie bowl stands, to name a few.

Members are also engaged in clearing dead trees, spraying trees to protect them from beetles and consulting with property owners to create defensible spaces to prevent fires from damaging homes.

And still others became members merely to “add their name and voice to cheerlead, if you will,” Curl said. Members may remain anonymous if they wish, he said.

All memberships are free.

He said the association is preparing to form a board of advisers comprised of people who do not have direct financial stakes in the beetle kill issue. The association is funded by Evergreen Land Co. of Leadville, Colorado Blue Logs of Kremmling (of which Curl is chief operations officer), the Timber to Homes Project, and the Colorado Intercontinental Regional Center.

Curl said Kremmling proved to be the natural venue for the association for various reasons.

“It seems to be central to everything,” he said, noting the town’s location relatively close to resorts in Grand, Summit and Routt counties. “Everyone is coming through there at some point.”

Plus, he said, the town is located at the geographic epicenter of the beetle kill epidemic in Northwest Colorado. And, the mayor and other town officials have welcomed and nurtured efforts to develop beetle kill-related industries.

“It’s a town that has a lot of potential,” he said.

” Drew can be reached at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19610 or at dmunro@skyhidailynews.com

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