Dead trees pose major danger
EAGLE COUNTY – Tom Olden, who has been in the logging business for nine years, is one of four loggers working more than 100,000 acres of beetle-killed timber in the Williams Fork Mountains northeast of Silverthorne. When large tracts of trees are beetle-killed it creates a huge fire danger.”It’s just a lightning strike away,” he said.The 138,000-acre Hayman Fire southwest of Denver in 2002 demonstrated the danger of dead, standing timber and an unprecedented drought. That fire was started by a distraught Forest Service employee and destroyed 350 buildings as it burned through large areas of beetle-killed trees.One of the larger projects in Eagle County designed to reduce fire danger and improve forest health, is the 72,000-acre Vail Valley Forest Health project. The plan there is to thin and burn some of the trees on the land straddling I-70 from Vail Pass to Edwards to reduce fuels that a wildfire could burn. That corridor is the heaviest settled portion of the county. If environmental studies are completed in time, that project could begin as early as this summer, said Cal Wettstein, district ranger for the surrounding White River National Forest. It will involve some logging contracts and cooperative programs between the Forest Service, various valley towns and Eagle County to build fire breaks around homes that back up to the woods.
That project proposes cutting up to 3,000 acres of lodgepole and aspens and setting prescribed burns on up to 2,300 more acres. New strategy needed?When trees are thinned or when stands are burned under the proper conditions, the trees that remain don’t have as much competition and grow better and become healthier and more fire resistant. New growth in lodgepole pines strengthens trees against pine beetle attacks, Forest Officials said.But if the Forest Service isn’t successful finding bidders on logging contracts, it may be forced to rethink its strategy of using logging to help create a healthier, more fire-resistant forest, Wettstein said.”The only other way is to pay to have that wood hauled out,” he said. “The chances of that getting funded are pretty slim.”However, the booming local building industry has created a demand for beetle-killed trees, Olden said.
“Local markets are strong for forest products,” he said. “The fruits of my labor show up in people’s houses.”He pointed out a common disconnect between extracting forest products and using them.”People don’t like to see logging trucks in their back yards but they like to see lumber trucks with lumber for new homes,” he said.Bugs that beautifyHome builder Phil Gould, who operates Handcrafted Log and Timber in Dotsero, said there’s plenty of local demand for beetle-killed trees. But it’s tough to get the raw materials he needs, he said.”All you have to do is drive up to Bachelor Gulch or Mountain Star,” he said. “There’s a lot of wood products up there.”The reason many custom builders and homeowners favor pine-beetled logs is the unique color the bugs bring to the wood. Pine beetles often introduce a fungus into the trees when they bore into the bark that can give the dead trees a bluish stain.
But getting logs from forest to home is the challenge, Gould said.”There’s not many loggers left,” he said. “It’s definitely frustrating trying to find a steady supply of logs.”Gould uses up to 100 semi-truckloads of mostly beetle-killed logs each year building custom homes, he said. They’re used for everything from walls to posts, beams, rails, trusses and even siding, he said.”I prefer pine beetle-killed trees,” he said. “It’s dryer and has more character to it than spruce or Douglas fir. I like the way it looks.”Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado