Colorado House Speaker highlights plight of Montrose sawmill Intermountain Resources, calls for bill to tackle 'unnecessary government restrictions' prohibiting use of beetle-killed timber

Wendy Lisney

Wendy Lisney

Jan 26, 2012 – The Associated Press

DENVER , January 25, 2012 () – In their war against red tape, Colorado Republicans cited local regulations they say prevent lumber businesses from selling lumber made from trees killed by beetles, which otherwise goes to waste.

House Speaker Frank McNulty highlighted the plight of a Montrose business owner during a speech to start this year's legislative session, saying "unnecessary government restrictions" prohibit the use of the beetle-kill timber and that a GOP bill would tackle the problem.

There's only one problem: The red tape Republicans say blocks the sale of beetle-kill timber doesn't exist, according to the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc.

The building-code confusion is calling into question the validity of one of the centerpieces of the Republicans' job package this year and underscores what happens when best intentions meet reality at the Legislature.

The proposal, which directs municipalities to adopt building codes to allow the use of beetle-kill timber, was scheduled to be heard this week. But it's been delayed amid confusion about what the bill would do.

"Right now, as far as we know there aren't any municipalities that have building codes that would not allow these types of wood," said Meghan Storrie, legislative and policy advocate for CML.

Mesa County Republican Rep. Laura Bradford, who is sponsoring House Bill 1004, said that if building codes aren't hampering the lumber industry, perception is.

"The way I would phrase it is that from the contractors and others in the lumber distribution business, and the builders, that they perceive that there's issues when they go to certain municipalities," she said.

Bradford said Republicans want the legislation to force cities and counties to pay attention to their regulations and train employees to understand that lumber made from trees killed by beetles is safe to use.

Andy Karsian, legislative coordinator for Colorado Counties Inc., said the challenge the lumber industry faces with selling beetle-kill wood is not regulation.

"I've worked with forest health issues for a long time, and one of the most difficult things has been communicating the reality and the worthiness of the beetle-kill lumber," he said. Karsian said "Rep. Bradford's heart was in the right place," but added: "I don't think that the building codes restrict this wood in any way currently."

The bark beetle epidemic now covers about 4 million acres of trees in Colorado and Wyoming. Entire forests on Colorado's Western Slope have been devastated. While that has created the potential for a new market for lumber, Karsian said it's a complex market to establish because it involves land-use and management issues, access to the trees and environmental concerns.

Dallas Wright, whom McNulty mentioned in his speech, manages a sawmill called Intermountain Resources. Wright said the business is using mostly beetle-kill timber, hauling in trucks of the logs "because there's so much of it and the Forest Service is trying to salvage it."

"By using it, we're not letting it go to waste," he said.

But Wright said his sawmill is exporting 90 percent to 95 percent of its product to other states because municipalities prefer to use a different type of lumber. Meanwhile, Colorado is importing most of the lumber it uses for houses from other states, said Pat Donovan, the managing director of Cordes & Company, the court-appointed receiver for some of the assets of Intermountain Resources.

"This material, if we can use it at home, we can do ourselves a big favor," he said, citing savings in shipping costs to other states as a benefit of using the lumber here.

However, Donovan said because of local control, he doesn't see how the state can do anything other than suggest to municipalities to use the type of lumber the Montrose sawmill produces.

"I think there's a general lack of awareness as well. People just don't think that, first of all I don't think they realize there's a mill in Colorado that does this, or that Colorado imports most of its lumber for framing," he said.

Rep. Millie Hamner, a Democrat from Dillon, said she would support reviewing any regulations that may be hindering the industry.

"But there haven't been any specific problems in the industry that have come up," she said.

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