What to do with all that wood?
Colorado’s current infestations of mountain pine beetle and spruce bark beetle are taking a visible toll on high-elevation forests, but beetle epidemics have occurred before. Inevitably, questions arise about what to do with all the dead and dying timber.In 1957, The Aspen Times reported on the demise of a potential pulp mill that had planned to use some 3 million cords of beetle-killed spruce from the White River and Routt national forests. The J. & J. Rogers Co. of New York forfeited its right to the trees, leaving the U.S. Forest Service to search for another buyer for the wood.An announcement that the New York firm was unable to meet commitments and had forfeited its right to the timber was made this week by Regional Forester Donald Clark in Denver. Under terms of the original agreement, the mill was to be in operation by the end of 1957.The Forest Service will retain $25,000 of the deposit with bid as liquidated damages.Clark said there are no specific plans for re-selling this block of dead spruce. “However, every effort will be made to salvage this and the rest of the nearly 4 billion board feet of insect-timber before it deteriorates. It is high-grade, usable pulp timber which must be utilized if it is all possible to do so. We will re-advertise it for sale as soon as we can find suitable, bona fide and interested parties,” he said. “When spruce dies, it becomes unusable for lumber after two years. If it had not been killed by the beetle epidemic and could have been harvested for lumber, it would have provided enough to build 400,000 average sized homes. The public cannot afford this terrible loss. We will make every effort to salvage what we can,” Clark said.Recently a proposal to generate electricity from bug-killed timber surfaced in Summit County, one of mountain counties hardest hit by the ongoing mountain pine beetle infestation. After two years studying the idea of a “biomass” plant to provide wood-fired energy for several public buildings, Summit County commissioners recently decided to pull the plug.According to the Summit Daily News, Johnson Controls Inc. studied several scenarios involving a new biomass boiler to heat buildings at the County Commons, the Medical Office Building and the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, but that none were deemed economically feasible.”Even under the rosiest conditions predicted for the future,” the newspaper reported, “engineers concluded the project would be extremely cost prohibitive.”Salvage logging operations have removed a great deal of bug-killed timber from the Colorado mountains in recent years, but people are still struggling with how to use all the raw material.In June, Confluence Energy received approval from the town of Kremmling in Grand County to build a $7 million plant that will turn bug-killed timber into wood pellets. The clean-burning pellets would be used in specialized wood stoves. The plant, which expects to process roughly 100,000 tons of trees annually, should be operational as soon as December.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.