Colorado Timber Resources gives local foresters tour of mill, showcases fire mitigation efforts

photo by Meg Soyars | Chris Parmenter, Ashley Garrison, Chris Stewart
photo by Meg Soyars | Chris Parmenter, Ashley Garrison, Chris Stewart

by Meg Soyars
High demand for lumber due to an upsurge in housing projects, coupled with the need to fire-proof forests, have proven how essential mills like Colorado Timber Resources are to the local economy. On July 13, CTR gave a tour of their mill to demonstrate both their fire mitigation efforts and the process of transforming green lumber into a saleable product.

Owners Dave Fiala and Chris Parmenter, along with Richard George, CTR’s Timber Procurement Manager, led the event. This included a tour of the mill and US Forest Service lands where CTR procures wood through timber sales. In attendance were 20 forestry and conservation experts from the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) and US Forest Service (USFS), including John Twitchell, Supervisory Forester with the CSFS’s Steamboat field office; Scott Woods, Partnership Coordinator for the CSFS; and Ron Cousineau, District Forester from CSFS’s Granby field office. Also in attendance were Pat O’Toole, owner of Ladder Ranch in Wyoming, and Sally Boccella, Northern Colorado Regional Director, representing Senator Hickenlooper.

“This is an exciting time to be a forester and an exciting time to be in the woods products industry!” exclaimed John Twitchell, who organized the event. “A big issue right now is treating the landscape at scale,” he continued, referring to managing forests surrounding rural areas like Grand County. “It’s great to work around someone’s house. But to make a difference, the whole landscape needs to be more resilient and fire-resistant than it is. [CTR] is a great example of treating the land at scale; that’s why we’re here today.”

Tour Highlights Modernization
The tour began with Parmenter, Fiala, and George showcasing their lumber yard, where thousands upon thousands of logs were stacked, ready to be hewn into boards, or “studs.” The yard was alive with activity, including log-splitting excavators and other heavy equipment handling wood that trucks brought in from the forests. “With the accuracy of our machinery now, we can do a better job logging and really utilize the resource,” Parmenter explained to the group.

CTR implements other modern methods to increase efficiency, such as their dry kiln. The group viewed the enormous kiln, where stacks of wood are heated evenly to destroy moisture. Parmenter explained how the kiln allows them to dry green wood in 24-48 hours, as opposed to 3 weeks sitting in a yard.

The group then climbed the mill’s stairs to get a bird’s eye view of the wood being cut by the operators. In a control room, the HewSaw Operator used computers to take a 3D image of each log. The computer calculates the best pattern for cutting the log to produce the most 2×4 and 2×6 studs. Some logs can only produce 1-2 studs, while others can produce 3-5.

“With the computerization […] we can get a lot of recovery out of the timber we bring in,” Parmenter told the group. He explained how
it once took 10-15 billion board foot to supply the housing industry, but with today’s standards, it only takes around 7 billion. “To give you an understanding of how far the technology’s come, it takes less than 50% of the wood that was needed in the ’70s and ’80s to create the same amount of board,” he calculated. The new technology also allows CTR to create a plethora of products that did not exist in decades past.

Diversity of Lumber Products
The group was able to view all of CTR’s finished products as part of the tour. First and foremost, CTR produces 2×4 and 2×6 studs for building construction.

“Wood is malleable and there are so many things you can build with it,” Parmenter said. “It’s not like concrete; it is much more pretty…plus it grows back!”

Parmenter explained how CTR implements a zero-waste policy, using 100% of the wood. So as the lumber is hewn into studs, the leftover material is converted to sawdust and wood chips. “About 40% of the wood that comes through here is made into chips,” Parmenter said. The chips have numerous uses, including livestock bedding, paper, particleboard, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), and playground chips. “For the playground chips, we sort through it to make sure there are no sticks or chunks to poke the kids. Kids like to fall a lot!” Parmenter laughed.

Another important use for the chips is energy. “Most of our material goes to the gypsum power plant to make electricity,” said Parmenter.

“With the new technology for wood, it’s become a way cleaner fuel, much cleaner than coal or natural gas.”

Parmenter praised wood for its variety of uses. Since CTR can now use 100% of the wood, they leave only young, small trees behind when they harvest land in a timber sale. He stated how this is a great advancement from the wasteful logging practices of the ’70s and ’80s. “Anything they couldn’t harvest, they just left in the woods; it was terrible,” he stated. Although the public may balk at the sight of clear-cut land, Parmenter emphasized that the forest regenerates. “Forests are generating 2 billion more feet a year than they did
in the ’90s,” he said. Lodgepole pine (which CTR primarily harvests) benefits from clear-cutting because of its shallow root system. Lastly, clear-cutting helps mitigate wildfires.

Forest Fire Mitigation
A critical topic during the event was CTR’s impact on preventing wildfires.

“Another term for wood is ‘energy.’ Wood is where the fires get their energy from. That’s why we’re in the predicament we’re in now,” Parmenter explained. “Young, healthy, spaced-out trees don’t cause forest fires. Not to say that logging or managing will totally wipe out forest fires, but it can mitigate it to a much greater extent than we have now.”

“With our timber sales on federal lands, we can create fire breaks,” added Dave Fiala. “We want to continue to work with the state and feds to create a sustainable forest.”

Scott Woods of the CSFS was excited to see how much timber CTR had harvested from federal lands, thanks to the “Good Neighbor Authority.” The Good Neighbor program allows the CSFS to partner with the USFS to manage National Forest System lands. CSFS can then contract mills like CTR for timber sales to harvest beetle kill and clear the area. This is referred to as “fuel reduction,” or the removal of trees and other vegetation that fires feed on. Currently, the mill produces 25-30 million board foot a year but is hoping to extend to 40-50 million a year with help from forest service contracts.

“CTR uses our contracting and administrative authorities because it’s more practical to use the state system vs. the federal system,” Woods explained. “About half of [CTR’s] wood you see on their log decks is coming from federal land. That’s significant because we have to treat at scale across ownership boundaries to actually attack the problem. It’s great to see all this wood coming out of the program.” In this way, there are no borders to hinder CSFS as they fight against wildfires.

The tour culminated in a visit to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, about 10 miles north of the mill, where CTR had conducted timber management for the CSFS. The southern portion of the East Troublesome Fire had torn through this area, so the group was able to see first-hand the difference between the areas CTR had managed versus the untreated areas decimated by the flames. In the areas CTR had logged and removed beetle kill, the fire was buffered; it burned through the grass and left most remaining trees intact and alive.

Since the fire, new vegetation has grown in the areas CTR managed–new greenery rising from the ashes.

“It was really incredible to see. One of our objectives in forestry is to mitigate the impacts of fires, so that was a really good case study of how management can impact fire in a positive way,” said Supervisory Forester Zach Wehr. “The fire’s severity was lessened […] it was one of the best areas I’ve seen.”

All in all, the tour was a great example of how federal and state foresters can work with mills in a mutually beneficial way; as CTR creates lumber products that “fuel” the economy, wildfire fuel reduction is accomplished. “CTR is one of several forest products companies in the area,” stated Wehr. “We rely on them as partners to get the work done. We couldn’t do it without them; they’re critical to making a meaningful impact on a larger scale.”