State Sen. Dan Gibbs is in Washington, D.C. this week to testify in support of a measure that could speed up the pipeline for some local forest projects
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — State Sen. Dan Gibbs is in Washington, D.C. this week to testify in support of a forest health bill that could speed Forest Service efforts to clear beetle-killed trees on national forest lands around Frisco, Breckenridge and Silverthorne.
The hearing is set for Tuesday afternoon before a U.S. Senate Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee.
The National Forest Insect and Emergency Disease Act is co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Sen. James Risch of Idaho. It would enable the Forest Service to designate critical areas to clarify where the agency can streamline approvals for logging projects.
The measure could also help the Forest Service use provisions of the federal farm bill to offer incentives to companies seeking to convert dead trees into biofuel.
One of the most important provisions of the proposed law would help the Forest Service establish long-term stewardship contracts with logging companies to ensure a steady supply of wood in trade for the work they’re doing, a critical part of enticing loggers to tackle low-value beetle-killed lodgepole forests.
White River National Forest officials said the good neighbor clause and the stewardship provision would help speed up some of the many forest health projects already on the books or in the works. Stewardship contracts enable the Forest Service to trade services for the value of timber that’s removed from the forest, according to Jan Burke, forest health coordinator for the White River National Forest.
Some of the forest health projects in Summit County cost up to $1,200 per acre. At that price, it’s not economical for the Forest Service or the logging companies, said Cal Wettstein, commander of the Forest Service pine beetle incident management team. The value of the beetle-killed wood in most cases is not enough to make a normal timber sale feasible.
The benefit of a stewardship contract is that it gives logging companies some longer-term assurances about access to the timber and guarantees a certain amount of money for the loggers, Wettstein said.
If it passes, the measure could give a modest boost to efforts to convert some of the dead trees into fuel chips and generate heat or electricity or wood fuel pellets. Wood fuel is widely used in Europe and parts of the U.S. When Udall introduced the bill last November, he also said the biofuel incentives could help companies explore if the beetle-killed wood could be converted to ethanol.
Filed under: energy, Environment, Forest health, forests, pine beetles and wildfires Tagged: | biofuels, Christine Scanlan, Dan Gibbs, Forest health, logging, Mark Udall, pine beetles, US Forest Service, US Senate