Making lemonade from beetle-killed lemons
The contracts announced Monday by the U.S. Forest Service, regarding beetle-killed timber on three national forests, are a welcome effort to reduce fire danger while providing important economic and energy benefits.
Under one $8.6 million contract, West Range Reclamation of Hotchkiss will remove trees killed by bark beetles or at risk of beetle infestations from thousands of acres of the White River National Forest.
Much of the material it removes will be sent to Gypsum to help fuel a new, 11.5 megawatt biomass-fuels electric generation plant being built by Eagle Valley Clean Energy. The electricity the plant generates will be sold to Holy Cross Electric Association, and heat from the plant will be used in the American Gypsum wallboard plant there.
A second contract also announced Monday is for $4.75 million to a Kremmling firm, Confluence Energy, to remove beetle-killed trees in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, which straddles the Colorado-Wyoming border. Confluence will use the wood for commercial lumber and biomass energy production. But the bulk of it is expected to go for manufacturing of wood pellets, which is Confluence Energy’s primary business.
The two contracts are aimed at treating approximately 20,000 acres of beetle-killed trees and trees at risk of infestation over the next 10 years.
As anyone who has visted Colorado’s northern mountains in recent years can attest, millions of lodgepole and ponderosa pine trees have succumbed to bark beetle infestations. In fact, the 20,000 acres to be treated through these contracts is only a fraction of the total problem. The U.S. Forest Service estimates some 1.7 million acres have been devastated by bark beetles, and in some places, 70 percent to 80 percent of the trees have been destroyed.
Those dead trees present a significant fire hazard, especially if they are near homes or other structures. But even when they are in the backcountry, they can be a massive problem for municipal water systems. After a fire occurs, soot and other debris from a burned area can clog or damage mountain-based water systems, and require costly additional treatment.
The contracts announced Monday not only help alleviate those problems, they will assist in maintaining existing jobs with the companies involved, and are expected to produce additional new jobs. And they provide an environmentally responsible way to handle the dead timber once it is removed from the forest.
We applaud the Forest Service for approving the contracts and the political leadership of members of Colorado’s congressional delegation who have pushed for years to ensure money is available to deal with beetle-killed trees.