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It took just about two weeks for separate fires in Colorado and Arizona to consume some 400,000 acres each. The estimated loss from each fire is about 1.5 billion board feet of lumber, enough to build thousands of homes.

No contract of that size has ever been held in the United States, but if there was a contract to log 400,000 acres of timber, it would require a lifetime of work for hundreds, if not thousands of timber workers, and by the time they were finished, at least half the forest would have regenerated into marketable trees.

Lonnie PorterÕs Precision Pine and Timber Company in Heber, Ariz. was nearly at the vortex of the Apache fire. PorterÕs family first settled in Heber in 1874. As recently as 10 years ago, they controlled three of 12 timber mills operating in the region. Since spotted owl restrictions of the 1980s, that has been reduced to PorterÕs single surviving mill operating on half a shift a day.

All around them, despite their pleas for reasonable harvest, the forest during that time expanded from about 60 to 100 trees per acre to the fuel-loaded growth of 600 to 1,000 trees per acre that finally exploded in June.

Porter estimates that it would have taken 75 years with his mill working full blast to harvest what burned in just 14 days. The selectively-logged timber would have generated new growth without planting. The burned areas must be replanted.

Within six months, insects will infest what still stands as salvage lumber in the burn, making it useless. Porter has little hope of being allowed to log it within that time. “Sure I‘m angry,” he said. “Sure I‘m frustrated, but I‘m going to go on until they understand.”

Fall 2002 Contents | Git Home!

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