Chama Wood & Watershed Cooperative

The Chama Peak Land Alliance is conducting a feasibility study on developing a private lands forest restoration and wood cooperative within a 100-mile radius of Chama, NM. The goal of the cooperative is to bring together private agricultural landowners in the region to create an ecologically and economically viable business to utilize wood resources in a variety of forms from the Chama region in a way that promotes forest restoration, healthy wildlife populations, and a local, renewable, carbon neutral energy source.

Introduction: Energy generated from wood is an ecologically and economically attractive option for a local, sustainable, and wildlife-friendly energy source. Given present day and predicted future oil prices, the cost of wood generated fuels, or bio-fuels, may eventually out-compete traditional fossil fuel energy sources such as coal and natural gas. These “dirty” energy sources are contributing to global climate change and the full life cycle of extracting and burning these traditional energy sources can often pollute community water sources and disturb wildlife and their habitat. Producing “clean” energy from local, renewable woody biomass and timber provides energy independence as well as needed forest mitigation that produces healthier and safer forests.

The loss of fire in western fire-adapted ecosystems as well as widespread insect and disease outbreaks has resulted in forests that are in need of thinning and treatments. These forest restoration projects are creating millions of wood biomass that could be used for local energy and benefit communities and the environment through wildlife hazard reductions and enhanced watershed and wildlife values. The ability to manage healthy forests and produce a variety of wood products and energy sources is a “win-win” situation, especially for rural communities that are often economically depressed. Moreover, most of the processes that use wood to produce energy also produce secondary value products, e.g. biochar, or surplus electric power.

Currently, millions of tons of woody biomass in the Chama region is being burned, chipped, or sent to landfills because there is no organized pooling of these resources to supply a sustainable market. The Chama Wood & Watershed Co-op will provide a base resource through the cooperation of private landowners that will, in turn, partner with its state, federal, and tribal partners to provide a one-stop shop for wood energy markets.  As an agricultural cooperative, which are fairly rare in the world, the Chama Wood & Watershed Co-op will allow forest managers to pool their resources for mutual economic benefit. The Co-op will explore aggregate purchases, joint marketing, and planned production to ensure sustainable wood supplies, and take advantage of other economies of scale to bring down members’ costs.

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