Ritter signs biomass bill in Vail
VAIL – Government officials in Colorado’s Vail Valley are excited about a new state law that promotes biomass energy development that could also be the answer to the local pine beetle epidemic.
Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill, among other bills, at Vail’s Donovan Pavilion Wednesday as part of his state-wide bill-signing tour.
Ritter said risks from the 3 million infested acres of Colorado forests are high, but so are the opportunities to create jobs and encourage the use of alternative fuels. There’s currently a biomass facility being proposed in Vail, awaiting the approval of a $26 million Department of Energy grant.
State Senators Gail Schwartz and Dan Gibbs, along with State Rep. Christine Scanlan, who represents Eagle County, crafted the bill, which would promote biomass energy development through tax incentives and renewable energy initiatives.
Scanlan, who was in Washington Wednesday, issued a statement applauding her hopes for the bill.
“Colorado needs a viable, competitive timber industry practicing sustainable forestry,” Scanlan said. “This new law will revitalize the industry so they can clear out dead trees, find a smart way to recycle beetle-kill timber, develop green energy, create new jobs and preserve existing ones.”
Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said the bill goes right along with the town of Vail’s forest health project, which aims to get rid of beetle-kill trees and create a defensible space around the town to protect it from forest fires.
“There’s hundreds of thousands of acres of beetle kill wood – something has to be done with this wood,” Miller said.
White River Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said it’s exciting to have this new purpose for removing wood. The removal programs would still go through a public Forest Service process and environmental analysis, but the Forest Service would need to look at the overall projects a little differently, he said, because the purpose of removing the trees is different.
He said it’s especially exciting because of the environmental tradeoff – removing the trees would not only protect the forest from fires, but also would remove a lot of the carbon that the dead trees send into the atmosphere.
Miller said there could be conflicts between the bill and the proposed Hidden Gems wilderness proposal, which has yet to reach Congress for a vote. The Forest Service can’t remove trees from wilderness areas.
“It’s a bit of a quandary, with the wilderness (and the beetle kill epidemic),” Miller said.
Fitzwilliams said the area near Vail that would pose a problem if Hidden Gems were passed would be the Lower Piney area. He said there aren’t many other conflicts because the wilderness proposals are mostly in roadless areas, where the Forest Service wouldn’t be logging anyway.
He said there could be a conflict, though, with new technologies coming out that make logging possible without building roads.
Gibbs, who Ritter called one of the state Legislature’s main experts on forest health, said the possibility of biomass energy from beetle kill trees is a great way for the state to turn a negative situation into a positive.
“We’re one lightning strike away from a potentially devastating situation here in Colorado,” Gibbs said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or email@example.com.