Hugged your local logger lately? |

Hugged your local logger lately?

Cliff Thompson

Olden runs Pine Marten Logging, an outfit that lately has been selectively cutting beetle-killed trees in the area, both in local forests and on private lands. While the thought of hugging a logger may be repugnant to some people in environmentally-conscious Vail, the alternative may be even worse, Olden figures.

“You’ve got your choice – bugs and fires or loggers,” he says.

Area forests are full of fuel wood and unhealthy trees, forest managers say, and selective logging is one means of reducing flammable dead trees and brush and helping restore it to a healthier state.

Loggers on public land, however, have been about as popular as Jessie Helms at a pro-choice rally. Environmentalists have decried past logging practices – particularly clear-cutting – has laid bare millions of acres of public land. Locally, very little logging has occurred. A mini-controversy two years ago swirled around Vail when Vail resorts removed timber from Blue Sky Basin and routed logging trucks through town.

“People portray us a booger-eating inbreds,” Olden says.

The reality, he adds, is that he’s very sensitive to the environment.

“We’re paying for the (logging) sins of the past. I don’t have a problem doing an environmentally sound job.”

Logging will help

The newly-released White River National Forest plan is calling for more selective logging. Much of the forest is dependent on periodic fires for renewal. Years of fire suppression on public and private lands have allowed fuel wood to build up to dangerous levels, creating huge stands of single-age trees. In fact, forest managers say, as much as 70 percent of the forest consists of single-age trees – unhealthy for the forest, as they’ve largely stopped growing, are less vigorous and are targets for diseases, insects and fire.

Olden says he has had equipment vandalized by people who don’t want to see any logging, but not on the West Vail project.

A dying industry

Olden says he’s in an industry that’s fast-disappearing. Colorado imports 93 percent of its wood, he says, most of it from Canada. The nearest sawmill is at Saratoga, Wyo., and it’s about to close, he says. The last Eagle County mill, in Eagle, closed more than two decades ago.

“It’s hard,” Olden says. “I’m considering going back to school to get an education in something else. There’s no work. Logging’s going away.”

Olden says he already has a forestry degree from Colorado State University.

Busy in West Vail

In the meantime, Olden’s got some pretty demanding logging to do in West Vail. Pine beetles have killed thousands of trees in local forests and have added fuel to what already is an explosive wildfire season that has seen more than 250,000 acres burned statewide. In the 2.3 million-acres White River National Forest, more than 35,000 acres of trees have been killed by pine beetles.

Olden’s working to reduce that fire danger, a tree at a time, and much of his work is in areas where back yards and forest meet. In his latest job in the valley, along Buffehr Creek in West Vail, he’s taking out 2,000 beetle-infested trees on 13 acres owned by the town of Vail. It’s a $55,000 contract. Roads he has built to access the trees will be revegetated, and in a few years all traces of the road should vanish, he says.

Olden says he’ll be hauling about 20 semi-truck loads, or approximately 120,000 board feet, of beetled logs out of the area. That’s enough to build four or five homes.

Those logs he will sell to a custom log home-builder in Bailey. If he gets $1,200 to $1,500 per semi-load, it will be a pretty good price.

Quite ironically, the builder needs the logs because his inventory of logs has was burned by two wildfires already this year.

“Most people don’t believe a fire is coming,” he says. “In the area we’re working now, there are fire scars from a fire about 65 years ago. We’re due.”

So far this year, Colorado wildfires have burned more than 300,000 acres and have destroyed upwards of 150 homes. It’s a scenario Olden is familiar with. He has done some logging in the area now burned by the 137,000 acre Hayman Fire southwest of Denver.

What he has seen here worries him. The live, beetle-infested trees he’s been cutting are dry – too dry – he says.

“Most live trees, when they’re cut, will push out an enormous amount of sap. Now they’re so dry they don’t. They’re weak and very susceptible to beetle attacks,” he says. “It’s kind of weird. There’s absolutely no moisture out there. For every tree that’s infected this year, there will be 10 or 12 more next year.

“All it will take is one cigarette,” he adds. “People here don’t want to believe a fire is coming. The power of a big fire is just unbelievable.”

Before he started the West Vail logging, Olden says he spent time with people living in the area explaining what he was doing and how he would go about removing the trees. Many residents had questioned the process, he says, but once he was able to explain what he was doing, they were more at ease.

Olden says he was able to access the area through the driveway of Brad Tjossem, who recognized the importance of reducing fuel wood in the area and granted access.

Olden has been using a rubber-tired log skidder with a cable winch to access some of the steeper slopes.

“It’s about as sensitive an area as you can work,” he says. “I’ve been in some pretty expensive back yards.”

Some of the trees, however, are too close to homes to be safely removed.

“You only have to hit a couple of houses and you won’t be able to get insurance to cover you,” he says.

Larry Pardee of the Vail Public Works Department says the logging project is part of a larger plan with the U.S. Forest Service. The projects main objectives are reducing both the spreading pine beetle infestation and the fuel wood for wildfires.

“They’ve done an excellent job of not disturbing the healthy trees,” Pardee says.

The project should be completed by early August.

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