PARSHALL – A new local lumber mill drew Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who is hoping to learn how private industry can both process the state’s abundance of beetle kill and provide a boon to the economy.
Colorado Timer Resources LLC began churning out its finished product – two-by-fours made of local beetle kill timber – the last week of June. On July 1, Bennet joined mill owner Dave Fiala, state and federal foresters, Grand County commissioners and local loggers to learn about the mill’s processing, job creation and potential to process the county’s excess beetle kill for profit. The mill currently employs 31 people, but Fiala said he hoped to bring on an additional 15 workers soon.
Along with Sen. Mark Udall, Bennet introduced legislation tied to the Farm Bill that would permanently authorize stewardship contracting with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. These contracts allow private businesses to utilize excess biomass on public lands for profit.
While it passed in the Senate, the House of Representatives voted down the Farm Bill on June 20.
“I think we have to find a way to change the politics in the House and get a bill passed,” Bennet said. “It was not our best moment, but we’ll go back after it … those things are hugely important to rural Colorado.”
Currently, Colorado Timber Resources LLC obtains nearly all of its beetle kill pine from private lands, with a small fraction coming from the Bureau of Land Management.
“The local community, in the past, has logged a lot of the private land. Now, in the next few years we need to get the federal land to open up, to release those timber sales,” Fiala said.
For its part, the U.S. Forest Service Sulphur Ranger District, based in Granby, has been working to move its timber as quickly as possible.
“We’ve put up more timber sales than industry has been able to move,” said District Ranger Craig Magwire.
He acknowledged that part of the problem is the economic downturn, with large mills going defunct and decreased lumber demand from a stagnant construction industry.
In the last decade, the U.S. Forest Service has been working as large and as fast as possible to move its surplus of dead timber, Magwire said.
“Up until now, our market has been 1,000-acre timber sales at a time, which is too big for any local mill,” he said.
The district is now repackaging those large sales into smaller sizes so they’ll be more attractive to small, local mills like Colorado Timber Resources LLC.
Bennet acknowledged it was important to explore solutions that both prime local industry and prevent delay of federal timber sales.
“We’ll stay in touch on all this stuff. I think we have been in touch about all this stuff, but communication can always be improved,” Bennet said.
Reporter Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603