A logging project in full swing north of Vallecito is expected to harvest an estimated 38,000 trees, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Matt Tuten, silviculturist for the Forest Service’s Columbine ranger district, said Montrose Forest Products was awarded the bid for the project in mid-2019 and began initial operations last fall.
The logging project stopped for the winter, Tuten said, but picked up in earnest just recently.
“This is a big area,” he said. “A little more than half the area up there is getting harvested.”
The area in question is on Middle Mountain, just north of Vallecito, about 30 miles northeast of Durango.
About 516 acres within a larger 915-acre area will be harvested. Tuten said some areas were left out because the terrain is too steep or there were concerns about the environmental impacts to wetlands and streams.
In all, about 38,000 trees will be harvested, Tuten said. A good amount of the harvest will be trees that were killed in the beetle outbreak in the past few years, but some live trees will also be cut down, he said.
More than 9,000 cubic feet of wood is expected to be harvested, resulting in about 900 truckloads.
“That’s a pretty good quantity of wood,” Tuten said.
Tuten said the main intention behind the project is to support the timber industry, as opposed to any benefits with forest health or fire prevention.
“That’s the big goal on this,” he said.
Tuten said Montrose Forest Products has until 2024 to complete the project.
“But with most of the wood in these sales slowly deteriorating, there’s good incentive to harvest sooner rather than later,” he said.
Tuten said smaller trees will be left standing to help regenerate the area.
During a public comment period, no objections were raised.
Logging in Southwest Colorado has lagged for at least the past decade for a variety of reasons, including lack of demand for lumber; the 2008 recession and its impact to the housing industry; and the bankruptcy of Montrose Forest Products, the region’s largest mill, in 2011.
But the Forest Service, in part under the direction of the Trump administration, has been tasked with rebuilding its timber program. Montrose Forest Products was revived by new owners in the past few years.
As a result, logging has picked up in the San Juan Mountains.
Most recently, a logging operation started north of Bayfield, on about 650 acres along Beaver Meadows Road, which is expected to harvest over the next couple of years about 52,000 spruce trees that also died from beetle kill.
Other projects are either active or planned around Wolf Creek Pass and Dolores.