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Wyoming group puts pine-beetle-killed wood to work

BRIDGET MANLEY
Rawlins Daily Times

RAWLINS, Wyo. – Take a trip to the Medicine Bow National Forest and you’re likely to see red.

A lot of it.

About 90 percent of mature lodgepole pines in the Medicine Bow and Routt national forests are expected to die in the next five years, thanks to the beetle infestation, said Mary Peterson of the U.S. Forest Service.

Forest Service officials want to remove beetle-killed trees from roads, campgrounds and urban areas, said Peterson, forest supervisor for the Medicine Bow and Routt national forests.

However, the question remains: What to do with all the dead timber once it’s been cut down?

“We do need to have an industry that can utilize the amount of biomass that we have, especially with the progression of the mountain pine beetle epidemic” and the resulting tree mortality, Peterson said.

An informal array of residents and officials seeks to help fill that need.

The group, which has no formal title, includes Wyoming State Forester Bill Crapser and Jerry Paxton, Carbon County Commission vice chairman, as well as current and retired Forest Service officials.

“We’re just interested citizens trying to get something done about the beetlekill problem,” Paxton said.

The group’s primary focus: Beetle-kill trees in the Medicine Bow National Forest around the Sierra Madres and Snowy Range.

The group spearheaded the effort to convert a former mill site in Encampment into the Grand Encampment Business Park.

Now, they’re looking to bring in industries that can make use of beetle-infested timber.

“Our big challenge is, because of the housing market, the dimensional lumber industry is not doing well right now,” Paxton said, adding that the group is looking to bring in companies with “nonconventional” uses for the beetle-ravaged wood.

Some firms have already shown interest, including a firm that could convert wood chips into electricity, Paxton said.

Other companies have expressed interest in restarting a lumber mill in Encampment or using the wood to make ethanol, he said.

It’s these kinds of companies that Peterson hopes can make use of trees that have been touched by the beetle blight.

“In order to get all of that material actually removed … we really would like to see industry utilize that material and be able to take it off for some product that has some value,” she said, adding that otherwise, the trees would have to be burned or stacked.

In Paxton’s view, trees killed by the beetle epidemic could impact local industries and communities, as well as the environment.

“We all see the potential catastrophic results of doing nothing,” he said.

Without the shade from tree canopies, moisture from area watersheds could be released quicker, and big game animals’ migratory paths could be altered to avoid snarls of downed timber, Paxton said.

Dead trees also pose a potential fire hazard, said Larry Trapp, deputy Carbon County fire warden and chief of the Rawlins county fire division.

Other areas also could be affected.

“The whole recreation industry, I think, is threatened by the beetlekill trees, primarily because there are going to be more and more roads closed because of hazard trees and areas closed to even people walking through them,” Paxton said, adding that dead, standing trees could pose a hazard to residents walking through the forest.

“The implications are really huge for this valley,” he said. “This valley really depends on (the Sierra Madre range) a lot for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing this time of the year, and hunting and fishing and hiking and biking and horseback riding” and other recreational activities.

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Information from: Rawlins Daily Times, http://www.rawlinstimes.com


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