Timber returns to the rails in the Valley

ANTONITO - For the first time in over three decades, timber is being shipped by rail out of the San Luis Valley to the Denver market via the San Luis & Rio Grande and Union Pacific railroads. 

On Friday, Wood Source Fuels loaded the logs from Quality Timbers and Wood Products in Conejos County on a railcar at a siding south of Antonito. The timber came from five forests - the Rio Grande, Carson, and San Juan national forests, as well State Trust land and Tribal, Jicarilla at Chama Land & Cattle.

The logs were harvested as part of a U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovation Grant (WIG). The purpose of the grant program is to grow a market for biomass products harvested to reduce fire fuels, manage important watersheds, and improve forest health.

The use of rail is integral to the purpose of the grant, which is entitled “Moving Biomass for Resilient Forests”.  The project will try to create a collaboration of public and private partnerships to promote a healthy working forest and forest-resilient communities. Flexible stewardship authorities, adaptive management, alternative treatment, and affordable transportation modes will be used to improve forest health and reduce fire risks. The grant has an ultimate goal of creating a cooperative to handle forest treatment, biomass utilization, and business operations executing economic efficiencies to address lower-value forest products (small diameter) and mortality due to pest and drought. The barrier of high transportation cost will be addressed by using of rail to ship low-value biomass chips moving more efficiently and with at a lower carbon footprint.

Formed with WIG funds on February 27, the Forest Management & Marketing Cooperative (F2MC) will combine forest treatment, biomass utilization, and business operations to execute economic efficiencies. This first shipment from Antonito is one way F2MC will address mortality due to pest and drought and create markets for lower-value forest products. Above all, F2MC was designed to be a valued partner with the U.S. Forest Service

“I look forward to working with the newly-formed cooperative, along with other forestry interests in the San Luis Valley and beyond, to better access traditional, new, and emerging markets and to explore alternatives to traditional transportation of wood, wood products, and biomass,” said Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas.

Caption: Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas, left, and Phil Seligman discuss loading logs on rail cars for shipment to Denver./Courtesy photo