Steamboat Springs The long-term health of the forests depends on the cooperation of public and private interests, county officials said Monday.
County Commissioner Doug Monger suggested a partnership between the public and private sector was needed to ensure healthier forests that would not succumb so easily to the threat of wildland fire.
"Government cannot be out there," Monger said. "We just don't have the resources, the ability or the whatever to be out there doing thinning on private property and/or public property."
If businesses had some assurance of trees to thin and work with, they might consider the idea, he said.
Private industry, such as logging companies and sawmills, must first have some financial incentive that compels them to commit to a partnership, he added.
Even smaller thinning projects could provide enough raw material for smaller industries, such as furniture builders, he added.
Thinning the forests makes sense not only because the practice creates healthier forests, but also because it yields a marketable product, Monger said.
If more local logging and thinning opportunities existed, logging companies would pursue them.
The U.S. Forest Service sends out flyers daily on projects throughout the country that are up for bid, said Cynthia Ferrendelli, a controller with the M. J. Miller Excavating in Steamboat Springs.
Projects include road maintenance, pest control, clear-cut logging, fencing, construction of visitor facilities and thinning.
Most of the bids, however, involve projects in Forest Service land beyond the state.
It's been a few years since M.J. Miller Excavating did a logging project on public lands in Colorado, she said.
"There are not very many in the state of Colorado," she said.
The logging company has done some thinning projects on private land, Ferrendelli said, but it cannot depend solely on the demand for logging and thinning in the area.
So it provides excavating services as well.
Loggers must be assured of a consistent supply of raw material to harvest, County Commissioner Dan Ellison said.
"They need to have some certainty that there is going to be a product," Ellison said. "Not just for the dry year when we all get concerned about things."
The hands-off attitude toward forests has limited the amount of trees available to thinning and logging, he said.
People like to look at forest that hasn't been clear-cut or substantially cut, he added.
"We've got a fairly good history of preservation by not doing anything," Ellison said.
Monger suggested government subsidies and tax credits might be the necessary means to making thinning projects financially feasible for private businesses.
Several thinning projects are in the works, said Diane Pipher, Forest Service public affairs specialist.
The Dry Lake Fuel Reduction Project calls for 206 acres of controlled burning on three sites in the Steamboat urban interface areas of the Routt National Forest. The plan also includes cutting and clearing 135 acres.
Another 83 acres near the lower parking lot on County Road 38 going up Buffalo Pass will be cut and made available to the public.
But the Forest Service cannot force private landowners to thin their trees.
"We have no authority," Pipher said. "We only suggest and provide information.
"We have been working with the community to encourage landowners to do the same thing."
Fuels reduction, however, needs to happen on both public and private land if forests and homes are to be protected, she said.
"It needs to go hand in hand," Pipher said.
When thinning projects are too big for the Forest Service to handle, a private contractor is called in to do the job, said Mark Cahur, fuels specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.
The Forest Service awards the project to the lowest bidder, he said.
As for the timber, Cahur said, the Forest Service will often sell it if it promises any commercial value.
Trees that are thinned but not easily accessible are left on site for people to collect or placed in slash piles for future burning under appropriate conditions, he added.
In light of current wildfires in Colorado, Monger stressed that something needed to be done to take care of badly crowded forests before the problem intensifies.
"We can either pay now or pay later," he said.