It has been a long wait. It is months overdue. But the wait is finally over, and the outcome has several entities very excited.
The U.S. Forest Service announced this week that the Pagosa Area Biomass Long-Term Stewardship Contract has been granted to J.R. Ford and the Pagosa Cattle Company, in collaboration with Renewable Forest Energy, LLC. The contract is for the removal of saw timber, products other than logs and biomass on the San Juan National Forest. According to a statement released by the Forest Service, operations will include forest thinning and biomass removal from public lands and will take place within a 50-mile radius of Pagosa Springs in areas currently identified by the agency as needing forest restoration and by counties as posing wildfire risks to adjacent private lands. The long-term contract offers the Forest Service an efficient method of improving the health and resiliency of a large heavily forested area, thus reducing community concerns related to fire danger.
The value of the project is $4.5 million over the contract’s 10-year span.
“This contract has been worth the wait,” Ford said. The contract, he explained, aligns both the vision of taking biomass to energy, as well as reestablishing a community scaled timber industry in Southwest Colorado, where the industry has been suffering for years.
“We will achieve fuels reduction and forest health improvement at the same time on lands that have already been approved for such treatment through environmental analysis and public review,” Pagosa District Forester Steve Hartvigsen stated in a Forest Service statement.
Approximately, Hartivgsen explained, between 1,000 to 2,000 acres of lower-elevation, ponderosa pine and warm-dry mixed-conifer forest will be treated annually.
According to Ford, the project will bring over 30 jobs to the area. Ford also plans to gasify the biomass and turn it into 5MWe of electricity, which will provide 30 percent of Pagosa’s electricity.
“We are excited about the potential for this type of project to spread across the west, where communities can receive direct benefits from health projects on public lands. We have been working on this for several years and appreciate the support of the community, agency leaders and the many others who helped to bring it to fruition,” San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles said in a Forest Service written statement.
Among those supportive community members was the Upper San Juan Mixed-Conifer Working Group. Ford and Hartvigsen have been active members of the working group for the past two years. The group’s mission is to find a vision for management of the mixed-conifer forests tied with actions and recommendation. Ford said that the working group played an essential role in bringing this stewardship contract to fruition.
“This working group provides public education for appropriate regional forest health goals,” Ford said. He also added that, for other communities wishing something similar would happen, working groups and community involvement and support are necessary.
“This project will bring new jobs to the region, create a healthier forest for the surrounding communities, reduce wildfire risk and generate a new source of renewable energy,” said Sen. Michael Bennet in a press release.
His sentiments were echoed and expounded on by Sen. Mark Udall. “Ford and his company will not only help reduce the risk of forest fire in the National Forest, but it also will save the taxpayers money. I hope the U.S. Forest Service will continue to encourage innovative, fiscally prudent projects like this moving forward,” Udall stated in a press release.
The first order of business operations for Ford will be the purchase of machinery to remove the wood products.
“It is a very good day for Pagosa,” Ford said. He is excited to prove through this stewardship contract that the collaborative forest health and renewable energy business model is an efficient and viable model that can be replicated in other communities.