This Colorado ranch-made-lab is turning beetle-kill trees into lumber in the name of forest health
BLANCA — Dead trees raked from the forest floor are piled into fences more than a dozen feet high. Inside the tangled-timber barricades are verdant forests of aspens. On the other side is a barren landscape, where armies of marauding ungulates munch every aspen shoot that pushes through the dirt.
The aspen havens span hundreds of acres across the 172,000-acre Trinchera Blanca Ranch flanking southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley. And they are only a sliver of the forest-management strategies at the ranch that are emerging as a model for the most progressive science bolstering forest health across a drought-stricken Intermountain West.
“We go big at things,” says Ty Ryland, who moved to the ranch as a kid in 1969 and took over management of the spread from his father in 1990. “To manage this many acres, you can’t do things small scale.”
Nothing is small at Trinchera, as the ranch is known locally. Three peaks on the ranch reach past 14,000 feet. The ranch’s owner, renowned conservationist and financier Louis Bacon, locked the ranch’s acreage into a conservation easement preventing development. And then he gave that easement to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the largest in the agency’s history.
Almost a decade after purchasing the ranch from the family of Malcolm Forbes in 2007, Bacon opened a sawmill near the ranch gate in the village of Blanca. Today, that lumber operation processes about 12 million log feet of timber a year, yielding about 20 million board feet of lumber that is sold to builders in 60 cities across more than two dozen states. Most every tree that arrives at the Blanca Forestry Products sawmill is coming from Trinchera, where forest scientists, wildlife biologists and cutting-edge loggers are developing a forest-thinning model for improving ailing woodlands.