Wood Industry Key To Saving Rim Forests

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Call it a wake up call.

The high fliers scamming millions by turning the economy into a floating crap game came up snake eyes — and broke the bank.

So maybe it’s time to rethink some things.

So maybe it’s time that America got back to making something, instead of making side bets on stock futures.

And maybe it’s time that Rim Country used technology and basic smarts to reinvent the timber industry — to stabilize and diversify the economy.

Oh, and while we’re at it, that reimagined timber industry can restore the forest and protect forest settlements in the process.

The tantalizing prospects lay at the heart of the presentation by an expert on forest economics, presented to a core group of Rim Country leaders at this week’s Business Buzz luncheon.

The presentation touched on what it would take to create a new wood products industry that could turn a profit on the enormous job of forest thinning that lies ahead.

Clearly, we’ll not again see the days of the big sawmills chewing through the inheritance of centuries by milling big, yellow belly ponderosa pines — those greater than 16-inch diameter, old growth, fire-resistant trees now in such scarce supply across some 2.4 million acres of forest running along the Mogollon Rim from Flagstaff to New Mexico.

We spent a century selling off trees that took 300 years to grow, in the process creating today’s sapling-choked, beetle-plagued, fire-prone forest.

So now what?

Fortunately, a new forest products industry could still make money on a network of power plants run on brush and branches and high-tech mills that shred small trees to make roundwood and high-value lumber made by orienting and pressing together those shreds. Moreover, wood pellets made from wood scraps could, in theory, provide much of the energy for home heating, in a region at the mercy of fluctuating propane prices.

Momentum seems to be gathering. The collapse in the construction industry and the ugly shuttered storefronts have underscored the need for a balanced economy in the Rim Country — a couple of frightening wildfires have focused attention on the threat and the government’s effort to stimulate economic development has opened the door.

The key lies in chain sawing through the terrible tangle of history and suspicion, piled up like a jackstraw pile of debris in the narrows.

That will require inspired Rim Country leadership, to seize this moment of terrible, crisis-driven opportunity to create the kind of public/private partnership the effort will require. Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin has been trying to gather up enough stragglers to charge the political ramparts for years, and she seems to be gaining adherents.

But a solution also requires some perspective and humility. After all, we clear-cut our way into this awful position. Forest advocates view this effort to get the loggers back out into the woods with justifiable suspicion. That’s why it’s crucial that the boosters for industry understand they must find a solution that leaves in place the remaining big trees — which hold the key to restoring a healthy, sustainable forest ecosystem. Too often, the advocates of a reinvented industry still end up going after the big trees every time they start marking the cut for the next “restoration” timber sale.

Inevitably, lawsuits follow and the divide deepens.

We’ve got too much at stake to manipulate the crisis and the system.

We need to get America back to work actually producing something.

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