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Colorado Looks to Logging Industry to Revive Forests

Wed December 30, 2020 - West Edition #1
Associated Press

GOULD, Colo. (AP) Stunned by unprecedented megafires, Colorado is embracing logging — mowing holes up to 140 acres in beetle-infested lodgepole pines — in an effort to revive out-of-balance forests.

This for-profit mechanized tree-cutting, concentrated between the blackened Cameron Peak and East Troublesome burn scars, has been clearing 3,000 acres a year.

State foresters propose to clear more. At two cutting sites west of Fort Collins recently, hulking red and yellow tractors equipped with whirling hot saws sliced through 12-inch trunks of the towering pines, then as they thumped to the ground raked them into bunches. De-limbers stripped off branches. Hooked pinchers hoisted the logs into bus-sized loads for diesel-belching trucks. Drivers hauled these along icy mountain roads to sawmills at Saratoga and Parshall, where workers convert logs to lumber as a surging national wood-products market pays record prices.

This large-scale cutting creates fire breaks "to give firefighters a place to make a stand" and "take out the energy" from inevitable future record wildfires, Colorado State Forest Service Director Mike Lester said.

When lodgepoles grow back, the surrounding broader forests will gain age diversity, with different species such as aspens popping up amid pines on newly-sunlit slopes, Lester said.

"In lodgepole forests, if you want to mimic what happens to lodgepole naturally, you do clear-cuts," he said. "Lodgepole pines naturally regenerate with forest-clearing fires."

Colorado traditionally hasn't had logging on the industrial scale seen in Oregon and other northwestern states, and forest ecologists warn against clear-cuts that accelerate erosion, degrade wildlife habitat and enable increased human incursions.

But state officials now are turning to this large-scale cutting as an alternative to inaction at an especially difficult moment. Across western Colorado, insect attacks on old and drought-enfeebled trees over the past decade have ravaged 5 million acres.

For years, ecologists and emergency planners have warned that dying, dry and overly-dense forests would lead to massive, ruinous fires.

This story also appears on Forestry Equipment Guide.

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