Senate bill may speed Summit forest work
November 24, 2009
SUMMIT COUNTY – A new forest management bill introduced by Democratic Senator Mark Udall could make it easier for local Forest Service rangers to carry out logging projects to protect homes from forest fires.
Udall’s measure would designate insect emergency areas in Colorado and adjacent states, making it clear where Forest Service rangers can use streamlined approvals for logging projects. The bill would also permanently extend a “Good Neighbor” provision that eases cooperation between federal land managers, state agencies and private land owners.
Most importantly, the new legislation would give the Forest Service more authority to enter into long-term stewardship logging contracts.
Udall described his latest forest bill during a conference call Monday morning, calling the pine beetle outbreak a serious threat and an unprecedented natural disaster that requires immediate action to get ahead of the threat of “looming fires.”
White River National Forest officials said the good neighbor clause and the stewardship provision would help speed up some of the many forest health projects already on the books or in the works.
Stewardship contracts enable the Forest Service to trade services for the value of timber that’s removed from the forest, explained White River forest health coordinator Jan Burke.
That contrasts with a straightforward timber sale, which is based solely on the value of trees, or a service contract, in which the Forest Service makes a payment to contractor to do a job like removing trees.
“The fuels (reduction) work costs way more than we can pay in a service contract,” said Cal Wettstein, one of the local leaders of the Forest Service pine beetle incident management team. And the value of the beetle-killed wood in most cases is not enough to entice logging companies into a normal timber sale, he added.
“When you have 2 million acres of dead trees, the demand goes down, as does the value of the timber,” Burke said, explaining the agency’s economic pickle.
Another challenge for the Forest Service is that the dead trees deteriorate quickly, making it important to get them out of the forest while they still have some value. Udall’s bill could add a few more tools the agency can use to get the job done, she explained.
Some of the forest health contracts in Summit County cost up to $1,200 per acre. At that price, it’s not economical for the Forest Service or the logging companies.
The benefit of a stewardship contract is that it gives logging companies some longer-term assurances about access to the timber and guarantees a certain amount of money for the loggers, Wettstein said.
“It gives the timber industry some assurance they won’t get hung out to dry,” Wettstein said.
Together with previously approved measures, Udall’s new bill could give another boost to an emerging biofuel industry looking to the forest for a renewable energy source.