Brower: Can businesses capitalize on the East Troublesome Fire?
While it’s difficult for me to see a way to make hey from the dire economic impacts of COVID-19, I can see some opportunity in the probable response to the East Troublesome Fire.
Yes, I think there will be cleanup efforts and watershed restoration programs and the like. And, yes, there will be some jobs created locally for those efforts. There will be many jobs as homes and buildings are rebuilt.
But I don’t see how that employment and one-shot efforts to clean up from the massive damage of the fire will come anywhere near to making up for the loss of more than 300 homes, 200 outbuildings and all the related losses to jobs and income from fire damage.
But there is one area where there just might be a silver lining, and that’s in the realm of forest management. The Denver Post has already run a page one story that examined the ways in which loggers and lumber mills could see more business as people look more favorably on large, clear-cut logging operations.
That would be because such large logging projects create massive areas of the forest where it would be difficult for a fire like the East Troublesome inferno to take off and consume so much forest so quickly. I think there is a sort of simplistic yet compelling logic to such an argument.
Just go out and cut a bunch of those trees in the cause of fire suppression and we’ll be putting the brakes on massive wildfires in the future.
If we can get to the forest economically.
If we can find markets for all the trees that will suddenly need to be purchased.
If we can find trees that are “marketable.”
If we can find a hungry and wood-starved lumber supply chain that can afford to pay for the type of lumber we’d be producing for many years into the future.
It’s not as if it’s a simple as cutting down trees and driving them to a mill that will pay enough for the trees to make it worthwhile. Logging, even on public land, is a market-based operation that needs to be worthwhile, by which I mean capable of paying for the wages and transportation and hauling by loggers.
But as any logger will say, it costs money to cut trees and drive them to a mill.
And as a mill owner will say, people have to be willing to pay high enough prices for their products made from those logs (structural lumber, graded lumber composite lumber, etc) to justify the mill paying a fair price to the loggers. But lumber markets are fickle and it’s not as if there’s always strong enough demand and need for lumber mills to make a go of it. And this despite the building boom we are seeing now around here.
Which brings us full circle to debates that are actually quite old in these parts. There are all these trees out there, many of which create fire hazards, which sit on public land, which frequently aren’t worth the effort to cut and haul. They are in rough and steep terrain, far from lumber mills and many times the quality of the wood just isn’t marketable.
Which brings us to “below-cost timber sales.” That happens when the federal government essentially subsidizes loggers to go out and cut trees, using tax dollars to make up the difference for what the market will bear. These sorts of sales have prompted all kinds of controversy in the past, both from budget hawks and environmentalists.
But I fear that may be what’s required to truly “clean up” our forests so that another East Troublesome fire doesn’t ruin another huge swath of our forests. That could create more jobs, for sure.
Or do we continue to live with the threat looming over our heads, imagining massive fire damage every time we look out our beautiful Rocky Mountains here in Grand County.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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