Colorado GOP’s beetle-kill timber bill questioned
DENVER – In their war against red tape, Colorado Republicans prepared to move against state regulations that they say prevent lumber companies from selling timber made from trees that had been killed by beetles, arguing the rules essentially force businesses to throw away money and jobs.There was only one problem: The bureaucratic obstacles Republicans went looking to eliminate don’t exist, according to a pair of state government associations.House Speaker Frank McNulty, during a speech to start this year’s legislative session, said the “unnecessary government restrictions” prohibited a Montrose business from selling repurposed bark-beetle infested trees as home-building material in the state.Republicans maintained that the timber is safe and said encouraging its use would provide a boon for the state, creating jobs, strengthening forests and mitigating wildfire danger.McNulty promised his party would introduce a bill to do away with the rule as a key piece of its plan to spur the economy. But the confusion about what rules – if any – are hurting the sale of the timber, is calling into question the strength of one of the centerpieces of the GOP jobs package and underscores what happens when best intentions meet reality at the Legislature.The Republican plan, which would direct municipalities to adopt building codes that allow the use of beetle-kill timber, was scheduled to be debated this week. But the hearing has been delayed amid confusion about what the bill would do.”Right now, as far as we know there aren’t any municipalities that have building codes that would not allow these types of wood,” said Meghan Storrie, legislative and policy advocate for the Colorado Municipal League.Rep. Laura Bradford, sponsor of the measure known as House Bill 1004, said that if building codes aren’t hampering the lumber industry then perception is.”The way I would phrase it, is that from the contractors and others in the lumber distribution business, and the builders, that they perceive that there’s issues when they go to certain municipalities,” said the Mesa County Republican.For his part, McNulty said Wednesday he was glad his party was bringing attention to the issue.Bradford said Republicans want the legislation to force cities and counties to pay attention to their regulations and train employees to understand that lumber made from trees killed by beetles is safe to use.Andy Karsian, legislative coordinator for Colorado Counties Inc., said the challenge the lumber industry faces with selling beetle-kill wood is not regulation.”I’ve worked with forest health issues for a long time, and one of the most difficult things has been communicating the reality and the worthiness of the beetle-kill lumber,” he said. Karsian said “Rep. Bradford’s heart was in the right place,” but added: “I don’t think that the building codes restrict this wood in any way, currently.”Karsian said his group opposes the proposed legislation because it infringes on local control.The bark beetle epidemic now covers about 4 million acres of trees in Colorado and Wyoming. Entire forests on Colorado’s Western Slope have been devastated.While that has created the potential for a new market for lumber, Karsian said it’s a complex market to establish because it involves land-use and management issues, access to the trees and environmental concerns.Dallas Wright, whom McNulty mentioned in his speech, manages a sawmill called Intermountain Resources. Wright said his business is using mostly beetle-kill timber “because there’s so much of it and the Forest Service is trying to salvage it.””By using it, we’re not letting it go to waste,” he said.But Wright said his sawmill is exporting 90 percent to 95 percent of its product to other states because Colorado municipalities prefer to use a different type of lumber.Meanwhile, Colorado is importing most of the lumber it uses for houses from other states, said Pat Donovan, the managing director of Cordes & Company, the court-appointed receiver for some of the assets of Intermountain Resources.”This material, if we can use it at home, we can do ourselves a big favor,” he said, citing savings in shipping costs to other states as a benefit of using the lumber here.However, Donovan said because of local control, he doesn’t see how the state can do anything other than suggest to municipalities to use the type of lumber the Montrose sawmill produces.”I think there’s a general lack of awareness as well. People just don’t think that, first of all I don’t think they realize there’s a mill in Colorado that does this, or that Colorado imports most of its lumber for framing,” he said.Rep. Millie Hamner, a Democrat from Dillon, said she would support reviewing any regulations that may be hindering the industry.”But there haven’t been any specific problems in the industry that have come up,” she said.
Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed.
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