A logging sale proposed on the San Juan National Forest north of Dolores is tapping into the spruce and fir market, but is also designed to combat the Western spruce budworm infestation.
If approved, the Taylor and Stoner Mesas logging plan would put aspen, Engelmann spruce, blue spruce and subalpine fir up for bid this summer.
While the aspen market has been strong locally, there is an increase in demand for spruce and fir, said forester David Casey.
“It is the first green spruce sale since the 1990s,” he said. “Spruce is something we are getting back into to test the market.”
The market is being driven in part by demand from the Montrose Forest Products mill, which makes precut lumber. The mill recently changed hands, and switched its focus to spruce and fir from lodgepole and ponderosa pine.
The logging sale is also part of a forest effort to control a budworm infestation that has taken hold in the Taylor Mesa and Stoner Mesas areas, Casey said.
“The insect is heavily defoliating the overstory, but now it has moved to the understory, and that threatens regeneration,” Casey said.
Forest visitors often encounter the native budworm as the wiggly larvae creature descending from trees on a thread of silk. It later transforms into a moth.
When their population is too large, budworms weaken the adult spruce and attack younger trees. They make the stand susceptible to other bug infestations, such as the spruce bark beetle, which is causing havoc in forests around Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek Pass.
“If the spruce beetle population did explode here, we want to have controlled the budworm problem,” Casey said. “The strategy is to have a healthy understory of younger trees to replace mature stands potentially killed by the spruce beetle.”
In 2016, the budworm defoliated 226,000 acres, mostly in the San Juan and Rio Grande forests.
Aspen in the proposed Taylor-Stoner sale would be clear-cut in large swaths, which generates vigorous regrowth. The spruce-fir sale would mark individual trees available for harvest. The selective strategy minimizes impacts from equipment and protects the younger spruce trees in the understory.
Other timber sales are focused on trying to stop the roundheaded pine beetle, which that struck pondersoa forests in Southwest Colorado in 2013. The beetle, which historically has not moved farther north than New Mexico, is causing problems in the Lake Canyon area, in Lone Mesa State Park north of Dolores and on Ute Mountain Ute land near Cherry Creek west of Mancos.
Timber sales in the Dolores District of the San Juan National Forest have increased in the past few years, Casey said.
In 2015 and 2016, the district offered four timber sales in each year. In 2017, seven sales are planned with more variety.
The forest depends on loggers to buy timber rights and help thin overstocked forests because it is cost-prohibitive for the forest to do it on the taxpayer’s dime. But often timber sales are not picked up, so foresters hope diversifying what is offered will improve the market.
“I see the upward trend continuing,” Casey said. “We offer a mix of small and large sales for one- to three-year contracts, and are seeing some smaller mills pop up in the area.”
For more information, visit the Taylor-Stoner scoping report.