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Grant will fund forestry initiative
Courtesy of Silver City Daily Press
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By JIM OWEN
Daily Press Staff

The Cooperative Ownership Development Corp. of Silver City has received a grant to fund a forestry initiative and to support Tierra Alta Wood Products.

The New Mexico Community Foundation announced the $40,000 grant as part of the $627,000 it is giving this fall to 35 nonprofit organizations in the state.

The 16-year-old foundation is New Mexico's only statewide, community foundation. Headquartered in Santa Fe, the organization raises money from individuals, corporations and other foundations.

"It makes grants primarily to programs that work to strengthen the quality of life in rural communi-ties," a news release stated.

The CODC will spend some of the money on its recently announced Jobs and Biodiversity Project, involving small-scale logging on the Gila National Forest designed to provide jobs and improve the health of the forest.

The organization recently received a $75,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to launch the project.

Thinning of the forest is needed to prevent large wildfires, according to the CODC.

"As a result of logging, fire suppression and overgrazing, area forests have a very high density of small-diameter trees, and diversity of forest cover has been lost," the organization wrote.

"Forest conditions pose a high danger of unnatural, stand-replacing fires and a lack of resiliency to other natural disturbances," it added.

The CODC envisions an "oppor-tunity for a confluence of interests (by) turning the excess small-diam-eter timber of the forest and the ready labor of our communities into assets."

The plan calls for "removal of small-diameter material (to) help restore forest ecosystems at the same time the local community, along with the CODC, is developing job-creating economic uses for wood wastes and trees."

The organization seeks to link local, small-capacity loggers with environmentalists, the Forest Service and area universities.

"This represents an opportunity not present in many areas where conflict on (logging) issues is so intense that it inhibits cooperation," the CODC wrote. "The project was developed to take advantage of this opportunity to develop community-based use and restoration work which can serve as a model to other forest-dependent communities."

The initiative may involve prescribed fires, thinning, grazing deferment, erosion control, road closures, native-seed planting and "intensive ecological monitoring," according to the organization.

"High-priority objectives include significant reduction of the potential for high-density fires, decreasing competition among trees that results from excessive tree densities, and enhancing habitat for imperiled and sensitive species," the CODC wrote.

Snags (dead trees), conifer trees with diameters of 16 inches or more, and all oaks and aspens would be preserved under the plan.

Project partners include the Gila National Forest, the Southwest Forest Alliance, Tierra Alta Wood Products, The Nature Conservancy, the Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, Gila WoodNet (a wood-products business in Santa Clara), the village of Santa Clara and town of Silver City, and the Silver City-Grant County Economic Development Corp.

Tierra Alta Wood Products is the first major enterprise fostered by the CODC's business "incubator." Chosen as New Mexico's Entrepreneur of the Year in Manufacturing in 1998, it provides jobs to the low-income, minority community.

The operation uses wood wastes and small-diameter trees to create a pellet fuel for home heating.

Tierra Alta also produces vigas, bark ground cover, playground fiber and mesquite barbecue chips.

The plan is for the business to evolve into an employee-owned corporation, "an important key to combating the persistent poverty and powerlessness of area people," the CODC wrote.

Tierra Alta employs nine people and provides work for five local trucking firms. It has produced and sold more than 1,300 tons of pellets so far this heating season.

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