Democratic senator says continued operation of wood processing plants critical in ongoing efforts to clear beetle-killed trees from forests around the state
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado’s struggling timber mills are getting some high-level help from Sen. Mark Udall, who is urging the U.S. Forest Service to modify several timber contracts that are putting financial pressure on the mills.
Udall wants the the Forest Service to rework the timber sale contracts with the sawmills. In addition to employing hundreds of Coloradans, the mills play a crucial role in the fight against the bark beetle and wildfire by providing the infrastructure to help clear 4 million acres of hazardous fuels and beetle-killed trees and processing them into wood products, the senator said in a press release.
The downturn in the housing market and the state’s forest-management economy led to financial trouble for the mills: Intermountain Resources (Montrose), Mountain Valley Lumber (Saguache) and Delta Timber (Delta). Basically, they are losing money on older timber sales, with rates that are higher than what it costs to remove the dead trees from the forest.
“These mills provide hundreds of jobs in Colorado’s rural communities and are irreplaceable parts of the statewide infrastructure we need to reduce wildfire risk to communities and remove millions of hazardous beetle-kill trees adjacent to roads, powerlines, trailheads, picnic areas, and campgrounds,” Udall wrote in the letter. “I appreciate the role the market must play in timber sales, but at this juncture in Colorado we must maintain an infrastructure to safely and economically dispose of our surplus of dead timber.”
Udall raised the issue of legacy timber sales at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on wildfire management in June, saying that the clock is ticking on helping sawmills deal with beetle-killed trees in economically viable ways. Udall has been working for more than a decade to help mitigate the impacts of the bark beetle epidemic in Colorado communities and forests.
The text of the letter:
Dear Secretary Vilsack and Chief Tidwell:
I am contacting you today to appeal for your immediate action to help preserve Colorado’s forest management infrastructure. Repeatedly over the last two years, I have been contacted by Colorado’s timber industry and other stakeholders asking for help. Our last three remaining large and medium-size sawmills are struggling financially. In fact, the largest – Intermountain Resources in Montrose, Colorado – went into receivership in June 2010.
These mills provide hundreds of jobs in Colorado’s rural communities and are irreplaceable parts of the statewide infrastructure we need to reduce wildfire risk to communities and remove millions of hazardous beetle-kill trees adjacent to roads, powerlines, trailheads, picnic areas, and campgrounds. While there are a number of reasons that the mills are faltering, including the economic recession, one significant source of financial stress is that all three mills hold legacy U.S. Forest Service (USFS) timber sales that are no longer financially viable and have become a liability.
As recently as May 2011, the USFS stated that it was continuing to review its authority to reduce timber sale rates and/or mutually cancel contracts within Region 2 that have become unviable to operate. The USFS has made some contract term adjustments, but none of these adjustments have allowed for the downturn in the market for wood-based products. The agencies have repeatedly pledged to do everything possible to save these mills, but the problematic timber sales remain.
I am aware that Intermountain Resources had over 50 timber sales with a variety of terms and issues. However, it is my understanding that the two smaller mills each have only one seriously problematic timber sale. There is an immediate sense of urgency because one of these mills had a periodic payment due last week, and yet has still not heard back from the USFS on its request for a mutual cancellation.
Modifying these contracts and thus helping sustain these three mills will have a direct public benefit. The USFS, other land managers, communities, and industry across the state and region are working to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires and restore healthy forests by clearing beetle-kill hazard trees and reducing hazardous fuels adjacent to communities. This critical mitigation work that protects people and property will become exponentially more challenging, if not impossible, if we lose our forest management infrastructure.
Without these processing locations in Colorado, the distance to the next closest mill with capacity to process any meaningful volumes of timber is nearly 800 miles away in Montana. On behalf of Colorado’s struggling timber industry, I ask that you take every action within your power to provide relief for these mills and preserve these critical local jobs.
I appreciate the role the market must play in timber sales, but at this juncture in Colorado we must maintain an infrastructure to safely and economically dispose of our surplus of dead timber. It is my hope that in the years to come we can work collaboratively to restore balance to Colorado’s timber economy.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.
Sincerely, Mark Udall