James (Jim) Austin
What is a GMUG? First, it is not “a” GMUG, it is “the” GMUG: the largest forest management area in America, GMUG is the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests combined into one forest management system located in Delta, Colorado. The GMUG Crescent is the home of 18 small cities.
Crescent Cities share key features. Water is the primary resource. For a century, the cities have purchased, shared, treated and used water collectively. The GMUG collects its water in the winter and delivers it to the lower basin states and Mexico. As water becomes less available, the haves and the have-nots tend to debate who needs limited water most.
In 1922, the Colorado River Compact allocated the water to the upper and lower basin states. The Crescent Cities produce and store much of the Colorado River water and the lower basin states (Phoenix and California, primarily) produce the Congressional votes. The debate goes on, and resource management becomes more intense.
Timber is the other resource. Years ago, the Federal government took responsibility for forest management. Though an overabundance of environmental concern, the leadership allowed the forest (3 million GMUG acres) to overgrow. Numbers can be debated endlessly, but estimates are that 150 trees per acre create a healthy forest, and the GMUG has forest stands that exceed 800 trees per acre. The crown of the forest captures water, as snow, and the wind, through evaporation, moves the water east. The forest needs the water on the floor, but trapped water in the crown goes east and trees die.
The key to forest health management is selective harvesting. Aggressive harvesting runs against cautious environmental concerns, so the trees die, and after five years of standing dead, the lumber value of the forest is lost. We continue to over regulate and endlessly study solutions.
The Crescent City, Montrose, Colorado, is the home of Colorado’s largest lumber mill. The mill produces mountains of sawdust annually. The mill proposed the construction of a pellet mill to convert sawdust into usable fuel. After a two-year application review (and a $250,000 consultant cost) the project was abandoned. The net effect of that and is that nine families are out of work, the material is wasted and the forest continues on its downhill slide. Timber is thinning itself through death and fires.