Community Ag Alliance: Ranching and forestry is a sustainable partnership
Ranching is a complex job. Driving by our local ranches and seeing the cows grazing in the fields, it’s natural to think that ranching is all about raising livestock, but it is more than that.
Today’s ranchers may be managing a portfolio of assets as diverse as any Wall Street fund, but this portfolio is composed of a wide variety of natural resources and their income-producing activities. These include pastures and grassland for grazing and haying; water for fishing, irrigating and livestock; wildlife for hunting and viewing; and forests for wood products, forage and scenery. These resources are, of course, all interdependent, and how one is managed is bound to affect the others.
Forests in particular are likely to have an influence on the environment surrounding them. Forests provide an array of benefits. They help hold water, releasing it slowly back into the system. Forests provide cool shade in the summer and hiding and thermal cover in the winter.
They also provide a range of useful products for the ranch, like fence posts, stays, poles, firewood and boards — an opportunity for periodic income. And the stands of aspen that turn vibrant yellow and red in the fall are an iconic part of our western landscape.
Of all these resources, forests and their management are probably not always a top concern of a ranch manager. It is easy to take the benefits from owning forested land for granted. Or worse, the forest might be perceived as a liability if there are beetle-killed trees, or trees perceived as lesser value species.
The recent recession and its resulting weak wood markets, in combination with well-publicized public subsidies to remove beetle-killed trees, have done much to reinforce that perception.
Along with this value perception, there are a couple of other factors that are particular to forest management. Because forests grow slowly, we might see them as unchanging. And because they grow slow in our high elevations, a landowner may only have the opportunity to have a significant forest harvest once or twice in their lifetime.
So here are a few things to consider, because a healthy sustainable forest can contribute to a sustainable ranch operation.
Wood has value. Markets for wood, particularly for sawlogs, have come back. The dead lodgepole has maintained value surprisingly well and is still being sawn into wood products, especially studs
The value of forest products depends on a wide variety of factors and varies greatly. When you are dealing with someone interested in your timber, keep in mind that they buy and sell timber every day, and you do not.
If you are contemplating a significant forest management action, get a professional, third-party opinion. At a minimum, get a few opinions regarding the value, and don’t be shy about asking for references and insurance for anyone working on your property. And always have a contract or written agreement to prevent misunderstandings and to protect yourself.
Some forest management actions, like cutting dead and dying aspen, may not have an immediate economic return. Still, it might be a good action if you want stands of young, healthy aspen in the future.
In cases where the value of the wood does not cover the cost of the desired treatment, there may be cost-sharing grants or programs for habitat improvement available through the NRCS or the CPW Habitat Partnership Program.
Finally, having a vision of your future forest condition can serve as a guide to management. How we manage the forest today will determine the products and services it provides in the years to come.
Forest management, like planting a tree, is often an act of faith, and something we do for the next generation.
The Colorado State Forest Service is committed to helping homeowners and landowners promote healthy and sustainable forest conditions. For more information, call 970-879-0475.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Things are normally pretty quiet around the base area of Steamboat Resort this time of year, but a lot has happened since the ski area closed following the 2020-21 season.