Beetle-kill trees piling up in Grand Co.
Grand County Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
GRAND COUNTY, Colorado ” At the Ranch Creek Limited pole yard, logs and slash are stacked to the sky.
“We are processing as fast as people are cutting trees,” said owner Mike Jolovich.
The Ranch has been stockpiling material all summer, and a mountain of slash about 30 yards wide by 300 yards long sits on his property, material headed for the air curtain burner, a large piece of machinery purchased three years ago.
Jolovich can only operate the burner during winter months outside of the fire season.
During the winter, the burner runs nearly every day for an average of 10 hours per day. But because of the high volume of beetle-kill trees this year, Jolovich is concerned. There may not be enough days in the year to burn it all.
“We received double this summer than we’ve gotten in previous years,” Jolovich said.
For this reason, the pole yard proprietor has resorted to having slash separated out.
“Clean slash,” or debris from felled trees free of stumps and dirt, is prime for his burner. “Dirty” slash, on the other hand, is stored elsewhere on-site ” with a solution for it not yet secured.
Besides slash, the Ranch stopped taking wood chips after it realized the material doesn’t burn in the burner as efficiently as slash does.
As much material as there is already, Jolovich said he can only keep making room on his 100 acres of land.
In the eye of the beetle-kill storm, running out of space and turning loggers away just isn’t an option.
“In good conscience, I just can’t do that,” he said.
Diesel is used to run the air-curtain blower’s engine, the cost of which is rising like the slash piles themselves. Jolovich says it costs him about $30 in fuel an hour, plus $40 for the loader that transfers slash from ground to burner, plus about $17 an hour to pay the full-time operator.
A typical load of slash, which ranges from about five to 15 cubic yards, costs about $6.50 a cubic yard for loggers to dump, he said ” the same price he established three years ago.
All summer, load upon load has been brought to this site by loggers, who are racing to get tree projects done.
Logger Greg Hill of Hills Tree and Shrub and his crew are finishing up a 325-tree project contracted by the town of Grand Lake. Every tree 5 inches in diameter or larger is being removed from the town’s rights of way, starting on Woodpecker Hill this year.
Hill has been getting rid of logs and slash any way he can. Primarily, he hauls logs to Ranch Creek Limited, to the Granby Sawmill, to the Grand County Landfill and to anyone who wants it.
“We give free wood away,” he said, adding that for senior citizens, they’ve delivered and stockpiled the wood for free.
The Granby Sawmill reported that it has processed 72,000 board feet already this past summer, with 6,000 board feet of aspen. The small mill limits what it takes, so its volume this year is the same as last year’s.
“We’re milling a whole bunch of stuff,” said Brian Langlois, owner of the mill. “We could fill the yard up to the moon. We’re getting packed out right now. I’m taking more trees than I need,” he said.
Besides being in the lumber business for fences, siding and building products, he cuts up many cords for firewood, selling stacks for less than what it costs him, Langlois said.
He recommends homeowners use the trees from their lands by cutting them into something they need, such as decks, sheds and siding.
“That way, my yard won’t keep filling up, making me wonder what to do with it,” he said.
For Grand Lake’s phase one project, Hill, who has been in the tree-trimming business for 26 years (four years in Grand Lake), said getting rid of the logs and trees has been feasible.
But he worries about Grand Lake’s next phase, when an estimated 5,000 trees will be removed from remaining town rights of way. Adding to that material will be trees and slash from homeowner lots as citizens start to abide by the town’s mandatory tree-removal law, which was enacted this year.
Hill said he’s attempted to keep costs down for the town with a low bid of $64 a tree.
But hauling trees and slash to Granby eats away at profits and takes time out of a logger’s day. Removing the material from an area can take about three to four trips a day, with loads averaging $80 to $100 each at the pole yard.
“It takes about two hours to leave Grand Lake, get dumped and get back to the job,” he said.
Not only is getting rid of the material a problem for Grand Lake loggers, Hill says, so is the lack of tolerance among homeowners when piles of slash sit near properties.
The amount of complaints from people has been “really surprising to me,” he said.
Hill and his crew have been trying to remove trees and clean up slash as they go, making hauls to Granby several times a day to deposit them.
“We need homeowners to be patient. Give the tree cutters time to get their job done. Be patient. If it’s a reputable, licensed company, they’re going to get the job cleaned up,” he said.
Whether it’s his crew or another company that does the next phase of town tree removal, Hill said, people need to be educated that temporary messes come along with the territory ” a necessary evil.
“The next project, with 5,000 trees, is going to be a big deal,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of upset people. And why they’re upset when we’re clearing a fire hazard away from their homes is beyond me.”
Without an air-curtain burner in Grand Lake, or a more efficient way to transport material to Granby, Hill said the next phase of Grand Lake’s tree clean-up is going to be a real challenge.
“Access to a burner in town, five minutes away, would save the town a lot of money,” Hill said. “We need someplace close enough where we can keep our costs down.
That’s good for everybody involved, including the customer and the town.
“We’re trying to get (prices) low enough to do more trees for the town, just enough so that we’re making money and paying bills, but lower than the competition,” he added.
“It saves money for the town, but allows us to pay insurance and pay our men.”
And from Hill’s perspective, even the pellet plants proposed in Kremmling 42 miles away would be little help for the individual loggers of Grand Lake. Transporting the material that far is a huge expense, one that would impact consumers, he said.
“I’ve seen several companies come up here in the spring, then have left,” he said.
“You’re not going to get rich doing this. Not with the prices people want to pay and the headaches that come along with it.”
Grace Juanita Cole, an octogenarian who lives on Grand Lake’s Woodpecker Hill, said that getting rid of surrounding “fuel for the fire” is fine, but she doesn’t count on it saving her from an impending conflagration.
She has her own plan.
“I’ve already set aside a 16-foot canoe, a cat carrier and six bottles of water,” she said ” the perfect supplies for a quick escape to the lake.
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