Clear-cut the rules, beetle foes say
MONTROSE — U.S. Forest Service land managers need more latitude and the forest-management industry more certainty if the mountain pine beetle is to be repelled, or at least contained, in Colorado’s high country, witnesses testified Monday before a congressional field hearing.
The bark-beetle epidemic in Colorado’s national forests is an emergency, eight of nine witnesses told the panel. The millions of dead and dying trees that turn red and then into denuded gray skeletons pose the threat of fire and economic dispruption, they said.
The hearing was conducted by members of the House Resource Committee’s subcommittees on water and power and national parks, forests and public lands.
One of the witnesses, Sloan Shoemaker of the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop, said his evaluation had qualifications.
Consensus-building is helping forest managers create treatment plans that don’t draw challenges, Shoemaker said, noting that “collaboration is the grease that can get things going.”
Forest managers are hobbled by contradictory regulations and competing agencies, including the Forest Service itself, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said after the hearing in the Montrose County Commission hearing room.
“The Forest Service needs more flexibility,” Tipton said. “It’s not brain surgery to create healthy forests.”
The Forest Service is unable to keep step with the fast-moving beetle and its depredations, said Nancy Fishering, vice president of the Colorado Timber Industry Association.
It can take 18 months to conduct an environmental impact study for a proposed timber cut needed to cut out diseased trees to prevent the beetle’s spread to healthy trees, Fishering said.
“The bugs move faster than 18 months,” Fishering told the committee.
Then it can take more than three years to complete the timber sale, during which time the market value of the timber is fast rotting away, Fishering said.
The Forest Service is making progress, Dan Jiron, Rocky Mountain Regional forester, testified, noting that the region in 2012 is budgeted to sell 193 billion board feet of wood, up from 189 billion board feet in 2011. Colorado is to see an increase from 82 billion board feet to 91 billion board feet in the same time.
Those amounts, however, are far short of the timber harvests of the 1970s and 1980s, said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
Sheer numbers of board feet of lumber, however, fall short of explaining the economic quandary for Intermountain Resources, the sawmill in Montrose, Fishering said.
Large sawmills such as Intermountain Resources need heavy sawlogs and can’t make use of the small-diameter trees frequently removed during forest treatment, Fishering said.
Investors need to know that there is a steady supply of wood to process before they will put money into Intermountain Resources, which is in receivership, Fishering said, or into a sawmill that investors are hoping to build in Saratoga, Wyo.
A project such as the mill in Saratoga needs not only a stable supply of timber, but also “protection from malicious environmental actions,” said Clint Georg of the Alden Group in Englewood.
His group still is studying whether to go forward with building the sawmill, Georg said.
Dealing with the bark beetle isn’t as difficult as it has seemed over the two decades that it has ravaged Western tree stands, Bishop said.
“We know what works,” Bishop said. “We have to treat the trees and we’re flat out not doing it.”