Pine beetle destruction means opportunity for private business | SkyHiNews.com

Pine beetle destruction means opportunity for private business

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news

If it’s painful for locals to watch the lush, green forests disappear to a sea of gray. The bright side is there’s a wealth of opportunity for private industry – and the U.S. Forest Service needs the help.

There’s a gap between U.S. Forest Service mountain pine beetle mitigation efforts and the ability to use what’s pulled out. But investors need more information before they commit. All the while, there’s a time crunch.

Just how long will these wood supplies be available for use, and how might they be maximized and used? The answers are largely unknown, but officials hope to find solutions quickly.

During the governor’s bark beetle summit on Monday at Keystone, Marcia Patton-Mallory, USFS bioenergy and climate change specialist, estimated 5.6 million tons of timber and slash will be available in 10 years. That’s less than 10 percent of the impacted land, she said.

USFS Acting Regional Forester Tony Dixon said approximately 98,000 trees fall daily in an affected area of about 3.6 million acres in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota. To protect homes and the lives of recreators from the impact of a thousand-pound tree hitting the ground at about 57 mph, the Forest Service is focusing mitigation efforts on more emergent areas with the “greatest human interaction,” Dixon said.

“There’s probably no way we can do work on all that acreage,” he said, adding that of about 215,000 acres needing work, only about 20 percent has received treatment.

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But that doesn’t mean they – and other associated interests – are not trying.

“Manufacturers, loggers, truckers – they need and rely on each other,” said Tom Troxel of Intermountain Forest Association. “Predictability is the key to it happening.”

With $40 million in federal dollars allocated to the mountain pine beetle epidemic in 2010 – three quarters of which went to Colorado forests – loggers and truckers can tap into the market. But more is needed, Dixon said. He showed charts that indicate very small percentages of treated wildland-urban interface, roads and trails.

Dixon said the Forest Service is aiming to make timber sales and timber harvest viable in the current market, and are seeking ways to expedite and make the process most efficient.

During Monday’s meeting, more than one speaker called for support of Intermountain Resources, the lumber mill in Montrose, and “mom and pop” mills in the local markets. Currently, it’s not profitable for most small businesses to move on timber sales.

“Most companies are in survival mode,” Troxel said.

Another challenge is the cost feasibility of transporting the logs to the appropriate processing plant.

If the roadblocks are overcome, opportunities exist for anything from biomass-powered energy and heat (though the development of such enterprises may take longer than the wood has value), blue wood fence-building, house logs and more.

In a soon-to-be-released report, Patton-Mallory suggested one way to create local enterprises is by applying state and federal incentives. She highlighted the opportunity for colleges, universities and governmental entities (such as prisons) to use the wood to heat buildings, or to co-fire it with coal.

“There’s no single one solution and there’s no one issue along the value chain,” she said.

SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at jkurbjun@summitdaily.com.

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