Task force will address beetle-kill wood management in Colorado

By Lisa Gibson | May 18, 2011

While the Forest Health Act of 2011 still awaits Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, the wheels are already turning on the act’s goal of removing and using 4 million acres of beetle-kill wood from the state’s forests.

“We need to try to take this issue head-on,” said Colorado State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who sponsored the act along with state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass, and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon.

The huge amount of dead wood in Colorado’s forests represents a significant wildfire risk, and the Forest Health Act is a means to assemble a task force to come up with ideas to curb the threat. That task force has already been put together with representatives from Colorado State University and the Department of Natural Resources, among others, Coram said. Speeding things along, the group hoped to meet for the first time this week, he said, adding that the governor is certainly behind the effort, which has helped expedite the process.

Using the wood to generate energy is only one component of the plan, but will be an important one. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. is researching the possibility of cofiring biomass with coal at its plant in Nucla, Colo., Coram said. In addition, a struggling sawmill in Montrose has significant potential to be converted into a biomass plant. With some creative thinking, the natural disaster plaguing Colorado’s forests can be turned into an economic opportunity for communities to mitigate forest health decline while supporting dependable energy generation and local jobs, according to Schwartz.

Coram expects Hickenlooper to sign the act when he visits Montrose on June 8, and the task force is on a deadline to compile an initial report by Nov. 1, finalize and present it to the State Legislature by Jan. 1.  After that, the legislature, in conjunction with USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack, will use the report in its consideration of incentives for using the wood to produce energy. Such timely action on the beetle-kill problem is crucial.

“It’s not a question of if it’s going to burn,” Coram said. “It’s when its’ going to burn, if we don’t do something.”