U.S. Sen. Mark Udall makes stop at Kremmling lumber mill
KREMMLING – U.S. Senator Mark Udall kicked off his tour of northwest Colorado by starting at a local lumber mill.
The focus of Udall’s tour is to highlight job creation, particularly in forestry management and national energy. Kent Hester hosted the senator at his mill, Kremmling-based Hester’s Log and Lumber, and implored him to facilitate affordable federal timber sales.
“We need smaller sales for smaller people like me,” Hester said.
Hester worked for the U.S. Forest Service for about 20 years, but resigned after becoming disgruntled with the agency’s politics and land management policies. He moved to Kremmling in 1986 and built his mill from scratch.
Hester’s Log and Lumber now employs 14 people and produces custom-order beetle kill products, like decorative beams and fencing. In the last 10 years, most of his timber has come from private lands, despite being surrounded by public lands in the thick of the pine-beetle epidemic. Past timber sales have been designed for large mills like the one in Montrose, and Hester couldn’t compete.
The U.S. Forest Service bidding process also needs to be expedited, Hester told Udall.
Much of the delay comes from environmental analysis. U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management timber sales are contingent on the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The environmental law requires federal agencies to consider environmental impacts during decision-making processes. But these environmental studies can take months or years to complete.
Hester agreed that it’s important to protect natural resources and forest ecosystems, but said the NEPA study process could be more efficient.
“What I can do is encourage, cajole the forest service to do more to produce contracts in a timely fashion,” Udall said. “In the end, these mills are about forest health.”
Udall called mills like Hester’s important tools in maintaining forest viability, preventing large wildfires and protecting watersheds while creating jobs and producing sustainable products.
“My job is to continually focus on the economy,” Udall said. “The economy is coming back, it’s recovering, but it’s fragile. We can’t forget that.”
Reporter Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603
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