Panelists discuss forest health

John Scarffe

Members of three panels shared their expertise during the 2012 Statewide Forest Summit at the History Colorado Center in Denver on Friday morning, Oct. 12. Organized by the Department of Natural Resources, the morning’s seminar was divided into opening remarks from state and national leaders and then the three panels addressing state and federal policy, industry and wood products and then restoration and community efforts.
Jill Ozarki, natural resources policy advisor for Senator Udall, said they are looking at the overgrown urban and wildland interface and supporting the forest service products industry. “We can take problems and turn them into jobs and economic development,” she said.
Emergency water shed protection is critical, Ozarki said. We are still dealing with water issues from the Hayden fire 10 years ago.
Colorado Senator Ellen Roberts, who represents Southwest Colorado, had the Missionary Ridge fire in her area. Three people died and 23 homes were burned.
“I’ve been wondering why we haven’t done more when we know our forests are in very bad shape,” Roberts said. “Public leaders say we have to do better, but we have just scratched the surface.” She said studies of the North Fork Fire have led to four new bills that will be introduced in the legislature in January.
Colorado Senator Gail Schwartz said they have placed additional funds for the watershed in the Water Projects Bill. “Water is a resource that’s valuable to the entire state,” she said.
She said 175,000 piles of fuel have been generated from fire mitigation efforts, which is a threat for fire and environment, but it’s also an economic problem. “Let’s have access to that and create jobs and economic development for the state,” Schwartz said.
Colorado has waste that could be integrated into biomass feed stock, so we need good strategies around biomass production. “We are on the verge of making some very important decisions in Colorado,” Schwartz said. “We can put our infrastructure and our neighbors in danger without good policies.” Senate Bill 267 is the most comprehensive approach to solving acres of dead timber, she said.
Colorado has 7 million acres of dead and dying timber, more than a quarter of our forests, said Nancy Fishering with the Montrose Economic Development Corporation. “We need to operate on a bigger scale, Fishering said, speaking during Panel 2 on industry and wood. The National Forest Service budget never goes up, and they are budget handicapped to begin with.”
About 90 million board feet per year coming from the forests are not enough to keep the industry going, she said. “We need a balance of tools, timber sales contracts and service contracts. Businesses have to have the right supply at the right time and the right species of wood. Colorado could do better by requiring Colorado wood on every construction project.”
Jim Nieman with Montrose Forest Products is a member of a third-generation family in forest products and fifth generation in farming. He has just purchased a saw mill in Montrose. “We have the same commitment to look at our forests over 50 and 100 years,” Nieman said. The challenges are surviving since the biggest recession since the Great Depression. “Do we have a market for our products?” he asked. “The answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’ It’s so important to have a consistent and predictable supply,” Nieman said.
J.R. Ford with the Pagosa Cattle Company has problems with fire mitigation on his land, so he has created a new Healthy Forests Company. He has purchased a whole tree chipper which chips trees with very little impact on the environment. It doesn’t leave slash piles, and the wood chips can be converted into synthetic gas that can run engines. About 3-1/2 percent comes out as ash, which also can be used.
“We are creating jobs, investing in the community and selling power back to the community,” Ford said.
Pam Motley with West Range Reclamation has been working on projects in the Peak to Peak area. She has been a contractor on Front Range stewardship projects west of Denver and Boulder for the past four years. They have been working to establish a restoration economy utilizing small trees, branches and bark and have developed relationships between the U.S. Forest Service and private sectors.
She said that four goals are treatments based on science, collaborative partners between government and industry, Forest Service commitments and a consistent supply of materials. “Businesses are spending millions of dollars to develop biomass products, so we must have a consistent supply,” Motley said. “It’s important to realize the great work being done in this state, and we are headed in the right direction.”