Beware of the Ghost (Timber) Industry!
As I’ve said, in some places (perhaps most?) the timber wars are so over. As much as some people think “the timber industry” is big and scary.. in many places you would look hard to find it. And where you find it, it is only a dim reflection of its former self. Perhaps, like a ghost, the industry exists, but just like we don’t run our lives with a strategy of ghost-avoidance, we shouldn’t be developing policies to avoid having a functioning timber or biomass industry. In my view, we should do what we jointly decide needs to be done on forested lands, public and private, for a variety of mutually chosen reasons, and help facilitate that financially by selling the products where feasible- oh , and by the way, providing jobs in Elk Country and other parts of rural America where jobs are scarce.
At least where I live, “commercial” is not a scary word; quite the opposite. It’s even “green.” See the link here.
Here’s a recent and well-researched story about the bark beetle problem in Colorado from the New York Times.
Loggers bidding for Forest Service contracts to clear out beetle kill typically anticipate that a second payday will come from selling the wood, defraying some of their costs. But when the housing bubble popped, lumber demand dropped off and production numbers at Western sawmills tumbled.
Considering there is only one large sawmill in Wettstein’s zone, it normally processes much of the beetle-kill wood. But Colorado-based Intermountain Resources LLC defaulted on some of its loans and was forced to shut its doors in May.
The mill, which is currently in receivership, is accepting wood again, but it is only working through about 75 percent of the timber it once did, said Pat Donovan, the court-appointed receiver for the mill.
The wood pellet industry has also taken a dive. Just several years ago, converting beetle-kill wood into pellets that could be used to heat homes or co-fire coal plants was eyed as an ideal way to dispose of some beetle-killed timber.
The recession and cheaper natural gas play a role
But pellet plants in Wettstein’s area suffered a blow last year when natural gas prices dropped. Market conditions forced both the Confluence Energy facility and the Rocky Mountain Pellet Company Inc. plant — then the only pellet mills in Colorado — to close up shop from December to May. While both plants are open again — though Confluence Energy is only up at half-mast — future operations hinge on demand and natural gas prices.
The outlook may not be bright. A fireplace products trade group that tracks how many pellet stoves are sold to retailers (though that may not translate into homeowners buying them) indicates that in 2009 sales were down 67 percent from where they had been in 2008. Making matters worse, the federal tax credit for purchasing pellet stoves — allocated from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars — expires at the end of the year.
With less revenue available to offset logging costs, contractors’ asking price to clear an acre of beetle kill is on the rise. Where the Forest Service used to be able to find loggers willing to clear an acre of beetle kill for $1,500, now it can cost as much as $3,500 — meaning the Forest Service can do less with its existing pool of funds.