New Program Squeezes Dollars Out Of Dead Trees

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A new Gila County-approved program provides local residents with tax deductions for dead or dying ponderosa pines that can be turned into lumber products.

Ron Lodge, a Payson resident with 45 years of experience in the lumber business, is coordinating the project.

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Pine resident Boyd Miller, Ron Lodge and his son, Jeff (left to right), with a pile of ponderosa pines removed from the properties of Miller's neighbors. A new program administered by the Lodges provides tax deductions to property owners in exchange for diseased trees of "saw-log" sizes.

Boyd Miller, a retired Pine resident is helping Lodge get the word to his neighbors.

"This is a lot better than letting (the trees) rot or sending them to a landfill and burning them," Miller said. "All the people I've talked to are very enthusiastic."

Lodge's company, Environmental Timber Management (ETM) coordinates the program for a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit company, Environmental Economic Communities Organization (EECO).

How it works

"Participants donate (their marketable trees) to the EECO," Lodge said. "Then ETM, which is our company, takes the responsibility for marketing the product or distributing it to lumber mills."

While markets are being developed for smaller trees, those that are eligible for the program must be "saw-log sizes." Some of the mills they are sent to are in Arizona, but most are out-of-state.

"We don't have enough facilities around here to process this volume of timber, so we'll be marketing (a lot of ) the timber outside of the state," Lodge said. "But we'll be supplying the local mills whatever timber they want."

Participating property owners are responsible for hiring a contractor to remove the trees and deliver them to a sorting yard near Snowflake. ETM can provide a list of reputable contractors who are licensed and bonded for property owners to choose from.

Gila County, which is a partner in the program, requires all contractors to obtain a county license to participate.

Tax deduction

"When their logs are delivered to our designated yard, which is right now up at the Apache Railroad, 15 miles this side of Snowflake, we will put the fair market value on the log ticket that goes through a certified scale check up there," Lodge said. "(Property owners) can deduct a good portion of that from their federal taxes, so it becomes a win-win situation."

Part of the money from the sale of marketable trees is returned to the communities from which they came to pay for additional clearing and reforestation projects.

"We're also supporting the Goldwater Fund and we hope to establish a Goldwater Center on the (Gila Community) College property," Lodge said.

Besides Gila County, the program is currently operating in Greenlee, Graham, Navajo and Apache counties. Parts of Yavapai and Coconino counties are also participating.

"EECO was formed by the Eastern Arizona Counties (Association)," Executive Director Dr. Martin Moore said. "(Gila County District 1 Supervisor) Ron Christensen is the chairman of that board."

A better solution

Currently ponderosa pines destroyed by the Ips bark beetle are either cut down by loggers who cut them into firewood or dump them in the landfill -- or, worse yet, the dead trees are left standing.

"If you don't get the trees out of there you don't have to have much imagination to see what can happen," Lodge said. "They get so brittle that if you get the slightest windstorm they break in the middle and you've got falling tops on houses, on people, on cars, across roadways."

The firewood option isn't much better.

"We've got enough firewood for 20 years," Lodge said.

Legitimate loggers and tree cutters like the program because it gives them something to do with the trees they cut down.

"They've had a very difficult time getting rid of the logs," Lodge said. "As you can see, there must be 10,000 logs on the ground in the Pine-Strawberry area."

Neighborhood project

A major factor in the program's success is getting enough residents to participate to make the program pay for itself. While Miller had to cut down 47 dead ponderosa pines last year on his 1.5-acre property, he doesn't have nearly that many now.

"I've got a half dozen dead trees right now," Miller said. "That's not enough to do anything with, so I need to get with my neighbors and coordinate."

Lodge and his son, Jeff, who also has many years of experience in the lumber business, are currently meeting with homeowners associations and groups of property owners to explain the program. One of the things they emphasize is the importance of getting the trees out before they lose their commercial value.

"The trees are dead, and if we don't get them out pretty soon, they totally lose their value because the fiber loses its strength and becomes useless and that's what (makes) lumber is the fiber strength," Lodge said. "If we don't, they'll be a $2 billion liability instead of a billion dollar asset, and that's a fact."

Many Rim country residents the Lodges talk to are surprised to learn that there is a market for diseased trees besides chopping them into firewood. But Lodge says that because the ips bark beetle only tunnels through the bark and into the outside cambium layer of the tree to lay eggs, the rest of the tree is unharmed.

Reason for hope

Perhaps most important, Lodge believes, the program provides hope to a community that has sometimes seemed overwhelmed by the scope of the problem and the devastation it has wrought.

"The problem with this forest and the drought conditions we have right now: there are too many straws drinking out of the same glass," he said. "You have 400 trees per acre and you should have 40. That explains why the water is not reaching us and why the trees are in drought condition.

"The larger, older trees are the ones that are getting attacked and are dying. When they're harvested, you cut the old growth down and leave good seed trees. It can be like a park again."

It's time, Lodge believes, for the Rim country to roll up its collective sleeves and get to work.

"I don't think we're going to go anywhere by pointing fingers or rehashing the stuff that's been hashed over 1,000 times," he said. "We've got to get an army of people out there that are effective, that are professional, that can get the job done and make it happen. This is a model for the United States right here in Payson. We need to motivate the people."

While the U.S. Forest Service has been handcuffed by lawsuits and the Town of Payson has so far given the program a lukewarm reception, both Arizona Public Service and the Arizona Department of Transportation have signed on.

For more information or to schedule a presentation, call ETM at 468-6650 or go to www.environmentaltimber.com.

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