April 19, 2007

Thinning trees to save ecology

640,000 acres.

That's larger than the state of Rhode Island and is, unfortunately, the current extent of the pine beetle infestation in Colorado as of February, 2007. There is no way to halt it and it will only get worse. The impact on the state's wildlife (not to mention the effect on tourism and the state's economy) is hard to imagine. Similar outbreaks risk forest fires of horrendous proportions in the San Bernardino mountains in Southern California and the much larger infestations in British Columbia.

Growing replacement trees will have to await the removal of dead ones to save wildlife. Finding an economically practical solution may require swift governmental action to spur private development of new solutions.

This ecological emergency requires forestry triage on a massive scale. The Rocky Mountain News carried the original story that led to this entry in the online BCO newsletter of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Colorado Seeks Market for Wood Waste from Forest Thinning

As ethanol-from-wood biomass plants open in Georgia, the state of Colorado questions the choice of location. Colorado has been suffering from a pine beetle outbreak for the past four years with 42 percent of Colorado's lodgepole pines infected. One of the largest factors for the outbreak, and one that if addressed could help mitigate the problem, is the accumulation of biomass in Colorado's forests and tree overcrowding. The lowest bid to thin one acre of forests in Summit Count, CO is $1600.

Gary Severson, executive director for the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, said "It's so expensive because there's no market for the wood. And at that price, there's simply not enough public money to thin the forests. The only way to do this is to find some way to add value to this material. With small-diameter lodgepole pine, there aren't a lot of options."

When Range Fuels was asked about its location choice of Georgia for its cellulosic ethanol plant, CEO Mitch Mandich explained that it was the difference between the trees as plantation crops and the already developed timber infrastructure Georgia has to offer. Georgia rain and soil conditions allow trees to grow to ten inch diameters within ten years, much different from Colorado's position. Lynn Young, a retired U.S. Forest Service public information director, explained, "It's too dry here, the soil's not deep and the trees are small - usually 6 inches to 8 inches in diameter."

Severson added - "What it's going to take is involvement of the private sector. What can we as government do? Cut red tape. Provide some incentives to make things possible, so people say 'Hey, I can make a buck at this.' Then the problem begins to solve itself. Until then, economic disconnect is the big problem."

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Anonymous said...

Just returned from a fishing trip in the White River National Forest area. Driving down to Yampa and on to Winter Park was a shocking experience. Perhaps action is being taken but none was seen. Aerial sprays against the beetle? If not acceptable, then why not enlist thousands of unemployed to cut the trees and have them used for pulp or ethanol or ? Why no Federal assistance to this destruction? A modern day Civil Conservation Corps would be a start. If that is just a dream then lets get some Colorado congressional types pushing a bill for immediate action with Federal assistance.
Jack Gilroy

C. Scott Miller said...

I see three options: 1) do nothing to stem the density of growth of our forests and witness horrific fires and bug infestations or 2) persist in fighting forest fires in overgrown wilderness areas which only make the future worse for mega-fires or 3) engage in restorative forestry to mechanically thin forests as described by Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen in his excellent "Protecting Communities and Saving Forests" (see
http://biostock.blogspot.com/2007/08/restoration-forestry-and-5-myths-about.html). The window of opportunity to restore forests to prior health without using fire or suffering from mega-fire consequences is closing.