An idea seemingly as simple as building a sawmill can make a world of difference for the people of rural Costilla County.

The county in the San Luis Valley is plagued by a struggling economy and overgrown forests, which create wildfire and pest hazards. That’s why we urge state and local officials to give the go-ahead for the full operation of a sawmill on the 176,000-acre Trinchera Blanca Ranch, which is on the east side of the San Luis Valley near La Veta Pass. The mill is under construction and hopes to open for test runs this fall.

The enterprise could employ between 40 and 70 workers depending on whether it can operate two shifts. Those jobs would mean a lot for Costilla County, which has only 3,500 residents and a 5.9 percent unemployment rate, Colorado’s fifth highest.

The jobs the sawmill would create are sustainable ones. Trees can be harvested from an 80-mile to 90-mile radius of the mill before hauling the timber would become cost prohibitive. And the mill is expected to have a capacity of from 10 million to 20 million board feet per year. Also, the mill’s influence could extend down into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains into New Mexico and to a small part of the San Juan Mountains thanks to its capacity to handle both small-diameter timber and larger-scale timber sales.

In addition to providing much-needed jobs, thinning out the nearby forests would help prevent wildfires. The Malo Vega Fire, which burned 13,780 acres on the Trinchera, forced the evacuation of homes in 2006. Cutting down trees would also prevent the spread of the prolific and deadly spruce budworm, and spruce and other bark beetles, which also kill trees. Bugs also threaten the spruce, Douglas fir and subalpine fir. The infestations have been known to stunt tree growth, inhibit reproduction and kill trees in huge swatches of the forest.

From The Pueblo Chieftan: