The erosion mats and wattles that Western Excelsior manufactures in Mancos are used around the West to stabilize the soil around road projects and new developments.
This summer, they've been used for an less typical purpose: to help restore a riparian area on Taylor Creek, between Dolores and Rico.
The popular but unauthorized camping spot had been badly eroded by vehicle traffic, turning the valley where the Taylor and the Little Taylor converge into a rutted marsh and leaving it susceptible to further erosion.
Because Little Taylor Creek is home to a pure strain of cutthroat trout, the restoration project was a natural for a partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and Dolores River Anglers, which is the local chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The Forest Service provided the expertise for the project, designed by hydrologist Shauna Jensen. A hydrology crew based in Durango brought both experience and muscle, as did District Ranger Derek Padilla.
Dolores River Anglers contributed more muscle and rounded up the materials needed for the project: two truckloads of rock that T&M Dirtworks sold the organization at a good rate; rebar contributed by Saulsbury Enterprises, a firm working on energy exploration in Doe Canyon, and cut and bent by Mike Rosso; grass seed from Southwest Seed, and the mats and wattles donated by Western Excelsior. Not quite three months later, revegetation at the site proves the project was a success.
"People don't realize how fast things will grow once the soil is stabilized," said Fred Christiansen, who is in charge of wattles, Wonderwood and byproduct utilization for Western Excelsior.
KEEPING SOIL IN PLACE
Western Excelsior manufactures a wide variety of rolled erosion control and sediment control products.
Erosion mats are biodegradable netting interwoven with fiber - in the case of the Taylor Creek project, wheat straw that is certified weed-free. The blankets hold the dirt in place while vegetation grows through. Some are colored with vegetable dye for aesthetic reasons.
The mats degrade at various rates, depending on the project. Straw mats with jute netting break down quickly. Long-term mats for use in waterways are made of plastic that will provide years of stability. Western Excelsior also manufactures a mat out of coconut fiber.
"The great thing about aspen is that it's almost like a sponge," Christian said. "It stays wet, holds moisture and lets vegetation grow."
It's also pH neutral, an important attribute in restoration projects.
Staked onto slopes or streambanks, the wattles - bundles of fiber encased in netting - trap sediment while letting water drain through.
On the TU project, they were positioned to prevent erosion until vegetation grew up to stabilize the banks, at which point they will compost into the soil.
"There's nothing we use here that isn't biodegradable," Christiansen said.
Western Excelsior specializes in environmentally friendly products from renewable resources, and the uses of those products are as green as the products themselves. The firm manufactures hydro mulch that can be sprayed on an area to stabilize and revegetate it quickly.
Western Excelsior products are used in wetland restoration and to prevent mudflows after forest fires. Excelsior is baled and sold to companies in California and Mexico that form it into swamp cooler pads. Archery butts are made from excelsior and coconut fiber.
Community minded as well, Western Excelsior has contributed 10 rolls of weed barrier fabric for beautification projects around Mancos.
The company gives away waste rolls to fill irrigation pivot tracks and for other uses.
"We try to use our waste," Christiansen added.
Floor sweepings are used in the hydro mulch, and the company sells wood spalls - pieces too small for the excelsior manufacturing equipment - very affordably for firewood.
Another Mancos Company, 49 Square Ventures, which is one of the only certified compost facilities in the region, creates and markets compost from Western Excelsior's waste. Bark is sold to a man in Olathe who grinds it up for cattle feed, and company officials are thinking about getting a grinder to produce landscape mulch.
MAJOR ECONOMIC FORCE
With a workforce of approximately 120, Western Excelsior is one of the larger employers in the area.
It is also one of the largest wood producers in the region. Stacked on the Mancos lot are enough logs to support two to two-and-a-half years of manufacturing.
"There's no competition for aspen," Christiansen said.
Although it has been dogged by neighborhood complaints of dust from its manufacturing processes, Western Excelsior has worked hard to change its image. Once considered a dangerous place to work because of the frequency of accidents there, the plant has instituted drug testing and a new system of interviews designed to identify employees who will fit with the company values.
"The culture here is changing," Christiansen said. "We're more employee oriented and community oriented.
"Turnover used to be 200 percent; now it's down to 5 percent. It's a health, happy environment."
Two and a half months after the mats were rolled out and the wattles were staked along Taylor Creek, they are proving their worth. Grass is growing up through the erosion mats, and the streambanks have been stabilized, even though some large animal - perhaps an elk - has done its best to pull some of them apart.
In the Taylor, now protected from motorized traffic and collapsing streambanks, the cutthroats seem at home, wandering at leisure from shadow to sunlight and back. Trout Unlimited and the Forest Service are satisfied as well.
Learn more about Western Excelsior at www.westernexcelsior.com.