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Pagosa biomass project still waiting for USFS decision

When will a decision be reached on the Pagosa Area Biomass Long-term Stewardship Contract?

That is a question without an answer.

“I can’t give a time frame,” said Regional Forester Dan Jiron.

Along with San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles and USDA under secretary Harris Sherman, Jiron was taken to see some of local businessman J.R. Ford’s biomass harvesting sites. During the trip, Ford explained to the men the positive points of biomass harvesting and biomass energy, how it would benefit the local community of Pagosa Springs by creating jobs, and create a healthier forest in the wake of disease and beetle epidemic.

“I am very positive about the work,” Jiron said in regard to his visit to Ford’s trial area.

Jiron continued to say that since he is fairly new to the job, being appointed by Chief Tom Tidwell in early February of this year, he has been quickly trying to educate himself on all the issues of the Rocky Mountain region, including those of the Pagosa Ranger District.

“I am very optimistic,” Jiron said, adding, “It is a very positive project, and I will be working on it. It is good for the forest and the community.”

Jiron reiterated that he could not make any promises as far as a timeline, but he said that it would be at the top of his radar. Senator Michael Bennet had toured the area recently as well.

“What I know about it, it sounds like an excellent, worthwhile project,” Bennet said.

Representative Scott Tipton commented that he saw this biomass project as part of the “solution.”

Even if the Pagosa Area Biomass Long-Term stewardship contract, which does not guarantee Ford as the chosen contractor, is the solution to creating a healthy, resilient and sustainable forest, the timeframe has already been extended longer than anticipated. The Forest Service was supposed to have made a decision and awarded the stewardship contract to the chosen bidder on Nov. 6, 2011. The reason for the delay has been the lack of funds.

“The Forest Service does not have a surplus of funds,” said Pagosa Ranger District forester Steve Hartvigsen. Whether or not the funds will be found to push this project is yet to be seen; however, Ford said he feels positive about the project moving forward quickly after his conversations with both Sherman and Jiron.

lindsey@pagosasun.com

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