Rim country residents with dead ponderosa pines on their property need to move fast to salvage any value the trees have.
"The beetles are killing our old growth trees and they're becoming a hazard," Ron Lodge said. "But there's still some merchantable value in them."
Lodge, a Payson resident with 45 years of experience in the lumber business, is coordinating a Gila County-approved program that provides local residents with tax deductions for dead or dying ponderosa pines that can still be turned into lumber products. Lodge's company, Environmental Timber Management (ETM) coordinates the program for a registered 501(c)3 non-profit company.
One of the partners he's working with is Dale Lee, who owns Bob Lee & Sons Tree Service, a company that's been serving the Payson area for 22 years.
"If you can get to them the first year when the needles are brown but still on tree, nine times out of 10 the fiber in that tree is still good," Lee said.
Many Rim country residents are surprised to learn that there is a market for diseased trees besides chopping them into firewood. But Lodge said 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.
Standing in the middle of a 17-acre forested area in Strawberry, Lee showed what happens when you wait too long to remove beetle-stricken ponderosas.
"We'll take 700 trees out of here when everything is said and done," Lee said. "Everything here has been dead going on two years. It's a real shame, but 95 percent is firewood. It's rotted on the stump."
Call Lodge and his partners in time and you can earn a tax credit on your dead ponderosas that could cover or even exceed the cost of having them removed. Lodge currently has six approved crews cutting in the Pine-Strawberry area.
"Once we get a call we say, ‘Here, you get an estimate from these people to have your trees removed,'" Lodge said. "Once you talk to them about what it's going to cost you, then that's where we come in. As soon as they deliver their logs we report the fair market value. More often than not, it's as much or more than they'll pay for having their properties cleaned."
Depending on a number of variables, including where the tree is located, it will cost you between $35 and $125 to have a tree removed. A tree that is 16 inches in diameter could have a fair market value of $200 or more.
Merchantable trees are hauled to a log yard in Snowflake. Larger logs that can't be processed in Arizona because the mills don't have the capability are taken to the Apache rail yard 10 miles south of Snowflake where they are loaded onto cars and shipped out of state.
A new partner in the program is Western Moulding, a Salt Lake City-based company. Ponderosa pine is the optimal wood for molding. Ponderosas down to five inch tops are merchantable, although the smaller lumber is usually turned into studs or common boards. There is also a growing market in states like California and New Mexico for pine firewood. Because it is widely available here, Arizonans tend to prefer hardwoods like juniper for firewood.
The goal of Lee's company is to leave a site in a condition he calls "park-perfect."
"There's a big difference between a tree service and a logging company, and it's qualified tree services that are working in this program," he said. "You have to leave it clean, and that's what we do. We raked every inch of this site."
Part of the proceeds from the program are returned to the community, according to Lodge.
"We're bringing money back through the EECO (for Environmental Economic Communities Organization, the non-profit organization through which the program is run) for places like the proposed Goldwater Center at Gila Community College, and we're bringing back 15 percent of the proceeds just for reforestation and reclamation."
But residents need to move fast while their trees still have value.
"The advantage that we have that makes it a win-win is that (the trees) are merchantable. There's billions of dollars worth of lumber out there at fair market value, and 15 percent of that would be millions of dollars to support our centers and clean up our forest," Lodge said.
"People shouldn't wait for somebody to come by with a subsidy or grant, because it's not going to happen. We're fighting a war, for crying out loud."
For more information, call Lodge at (928) 468-6650.