August 11, 2011

No Simple Answers in Salvage Forestry and Water

Pity Forest Service hydrologist Phil Reinholtz trying to explain complex natural systems to a bunch of water buffaloes who just want an answer to their question: "Will bark beetle infestations on the Rio Grande National Forest increase streamflow?"
RIGHT: Butch Siegel, a contract logger, stacks trees cut down near the Wildernest subdivision in Silverthorne in January 2010. Foresters had hoped that the trees would be sold to timber mills near Montrose and South Fork and a government-supported pellet factory near Kremmling. (Daniel Petty, Denver Post file)

It's complicated. Different parts of the state have different beetle infestations. They affect mostly ponderosa pine around here, lodgepole pine in northern Colorado, and spruce in the San Juans and the Rio Grande headwaters. Reinholz was forced to reach back to the 1940s for an analogous situation—in yet a different part of the state:
One study that did look at the impacts of spruce beetle infestation examined the White and Yampa river basins over a 14-year period after massive blowdowns sparked the bug's rise in the 1940s.

The White saw a 22 percent increase in stream flow while the Yampa jumped 14 percent, but Reinholtz said the increases came largely at the latter end of the study.

He said water yields could also be dependent on whether spruce stands were mixed in with other tree species like aspen, which might absorb part of the water yield.
And then there is always the bright guy who wants to know if more logging would not have stopped the outbreak.
Forty-eight percent of the [Rio Grande National] forest's spruce stands sit in wilderness and backcountry areas that are off limits to logging or other forms of treatment.

Moreover, the nation's recession has not spared timber markets, shrinking the demand for the wood that's available, he said.
And one other reason goes unsaid in that article. There are a lot fewer sawmills in Colorado than there were two generations ago. Once every town seemed to have a sawmill. (And the smoke from teepee burners filled mountain valleys.) They could not compete with the big corporations shipping in lumber from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.

In northern Colorado, beetle-killed lodgepole pine logs are piling up with no one to mill them. (See Denver Post photo above.)
Dead-tree cutting across northern Colorado and southern Wyoming — to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires and of dead trees falling on people — has left an estimated 170,000 piles of trees and slashed branches, Forest Service supervisors said last week. Contractors contend they can't find markets because Colorado has few mills and Canadian timber imports keep prices low. . . . .
Federal foresters who received $40 million in emergency funds from Washington initially assumed that contractors would be able to sell cut trees to timber mills near Montrose and South Fork and a government-supported pellet factory near Kremmling.
So the logs have to be trucked a couple of hundred miles over mountain passes to a mill—or to a government-subsidized factory?  Don't you love the economics of it?

But there is always someone who thinks they have the simple solution.

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