By Darrell Arnold
HUERFANO- "Our forest in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties is not in great health," says La Veta District Forest Manager Clarence Morey, "but it is better than in the northern part of Colorado. A lot of our forests here are too old and overgrown. We’ve been able to improve some acres, but we need to keep working on it.
"We need a lot more thinning, reducing fuels. Once we get that accomplished, then we can use prescribed fires. Once you can establish fire back into the landscape, you help the forest. And the cost of doing it that way is a lot cheaper than thinning and eliminating undergrowth by hand."
Another vulnerability of old-age forests is susceptibility to the ravages of the Rocky Mountain pine beetle.
Morey says, "We’ve had the beetles here, but we haven’t had the epidemic. We’ve worked with different landowners on pine beetle control ever since I’ve been down here.
"In 1977 and ‘78, we set up a designated control area near Stonewall where we harvested the trees and took them to a sawmill and on other lands we treated trees with chemicals.
"Unfortunately, the mountain pine beetle has gotten to the Front Range and is starting to move this way. They’ve lost whole mountainsides of forests. "We hope we can keep a handle on it here," says Morey.
One of the biggest reasons for the pine beetle epidemic, according to Morey, is the loss of the timber industry in Colorado.
"We just don’t have the capacity in sawmills to start taking out the infested wood. We need a timber industry to help renew the forests through thinning. But we don’t have it so the forests are unhealthy and we have beetle epidemics and huge fires."
The reason for the loss of the Colorado timber industry, of course, is because misguided lawsuits by environmental groups have caused our federally owned forests to be removed as a source for commercial lumber. With sawmills unable to get enough timber off of federal lands to sustain their operations, those operations went out of business.
"Ironically," says Morey, "we’re now importing our wood from Canada."
The San Isabel National Forest has been severely affected by the diminished logging industry. Morey says, "There are a lot of dead and down trees and heavy fuels. The national forest here is more prone to devastating fires. Their people are virtually hamstrung. They don’t have the manpower, they don’t have the funds, they don’t have the projects. They’re not able to do anything."
Things are a little better, however, on the private land and state forest lands. Morey explains, "We are fortunate here that we have quite a bit of forested private lands, and that’s why Dochter’s Lumber Company down by Trinidad is still in business. "On our private lands, we’ve made more roads, we’ve thinned out a lot of areas. I’ve been working at it for 35 years down here and gotten a few acres done, but there is a lot more to do. Last year we got 2,000 acres done."