Salvaging timber

Bonn turns beetle-infested trees into valuable wood products

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— Joe Bonn has found a business model that allows his clients to rid their property of beetle-infested conifers and recoup a little money in the process.

If Bonn has his way, the clients even derive pride of ownership from the process.

Bonn is the owner of J. Bonn Wood Products. He has spent much of the last quarter century working to maintain healthy forests and manage the cyclical infestations of pine and spruce beetles that plague forests in this region. The insect infestation is peaking and that means many property owners must regretfully remove mature trees from their land.

Thanks to a new portable band saw that makes handling heavy logs a snap, Bonn is able to turn dying trees into usable timbers.

Most people are sad to cut down mature pine trees, but once infested with the beetle, they are doomed, and removal isn't an option but a necessity for people who want to save their remaining trees. Salvaging the timber softens some of the sting, Bonn finds.

And for some people, it can offset 80 percent of the cost of tree removal, depending upon the situation.

The beetles live in the layer between the bark and the cambium of the trees, Bonn said.

Once his saw strips the trees of their bark, the resulting timbers are free of infestation and ready to dry.

The slab wood that results from making the timbers is run through a large chipper that spells "the end" for the beetles and their larvae.

However, Bonn doesn't stop at merely removing dying trees.

The foundation of Bonn's operation is his new band saw called the Wood-Mizer.

He purchased the machine last fall for $24,000. The saw has its own trailer incorporated into the design and its narrow dimensions make it relatively easy for Bonn to get it into the woods to do its job.

He can unhook it from his stakebed truck and set it up within five minutes. It isn't as noisy as one might expect and is relatively safe because the operator can stand back from the blade while the saw works its way down a log.

Most important, the saw has a chain drive that powers the saw down the length of a log, making a clean straight cut.

The size of the trees dictates the size of the timbers that can be milled from the logs. A log with a diameter of 14 inches at the narrow end can produce 10-inch by 10-inch timbers.

It takes a tree 16 inches in diameter, or 100-plus years old, to produce 10-by-12 timbers.

Hydraulic appendages allow the saw to rotate and level the log for the next three cuts that turn it into a square timber. There is no need for the operator to manhandle the heavy log. As a result, Bonn says he endures a lot less physical punishment than he did with an older saw.

Bonn was working with Charlie Cammer, agricultural manager at Vista Verde Guest Ranch in North Routt County this week. They are in the midst of a multi-year project to rejuvenate a mature stand of lodgepole on the ranch.

After consulting with foresters from the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado State Forest, Cammer said, the ranch is reducing cattle grazing substantially in the area where dying trees are being cut.

That step was taken to help promote new growth lodgepole pines.

Cammer was using a tractor fitted with a bucket to pick up logs from 100-year-old pines and set them on the carriage of the band saw.

"We were going to thin this stand and now the beetles are doing it for us," Cammer said. "It's a combination of the beetles and five years of drought that makes them more susceptible."

It's not that the cattle would actually graze on lodgepole seedlings -- they'd just trample them, Cammer said.

The big timbers Bonn was carving up with his Wood-Mizer on Wednesday were destined to be used to build a large carriage house for another employee of the ranch.

Cammer collaborated with Bonn on his own 2,400-square-foot timber frame home on his 5-acre lot in Badger Meadows near Steamboat Lake.

The exterior walls and roof of the house were made with timbers logged exclusively from beetle-infested trees on his property. Cammer sought a bid for importing green oak timbers from Ohio for the house and was quoted $55,000 for the package. He estimates he saved half that amount by utilizing the sick trees on his own land.

"I'm too much of a Yankee to waste anything," Cammer said. He added that John Munn, who owns Vista Verde with his wife Suzanne, is the kind of businessman who loves to find opportunity in a problem.

Less than a mile away from Wednesday's timber sawing operation, Vista Verde Properties Manager Bill Backer was looking for "opportunities" in the ranch wood shop.

In addition to assuming responsibility for the upkeep of Vista Verde's building, Backer enjoys using wood salvaged from the beetle infestation on the ranch to create furniture to enhance the luxuriously rustic cabins at Vista Verde. He makes log beds and timber dining tables.

Bonn is happiest when his clients are interested in working with him to convert their dying trees into something usable -- whether it's a humble log bench or a dramatic timber-frame carriage house.

"What I've been trying to do is to encourage people to use the wood they have," Bonn said.

"A lot of contractors don't like to work with homeowners like that, but I find it more rewarding."

Bonn can be reached at 870-1466 or 846-8430.


-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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