- by Kelly Hatton, July 17, 2014, Western Confluence
On a morning in early March, I ride with Cody Neff, owner of West Range Reclamation (WRR), in his truck from Frisco, Colorado, to the company’s nearby worksite in the White River National Forest. Light is just starting to reach over the high snow-covered slopes surrounding Frisco, but Neff is awake and ready to talk. He tells me that originally it was a love of cattle, not forests, that brought him west to the University of Wyoming, where he studied rangeland ecology while raising beef on a piece of leased land outside Laramie. Now, fifteen years later, he’s running a fifty-employee company and supervising forestry projects on Colorado’s Front Range and in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest. It’s a position he didn’t necessarily imagine for himself, but one that he has taken on with enthusiasm.
Neff and wife, Stephanie—who Neff credits for his success—started WRR in 2001. They saw a need for what Neff calls responsible and beneficial rangeland and forest management.
From behind the steering wheel, Neff interrupts himself to point out areas on the slopes where the company has completed projects. As he steers up the rough road, he takes phone calls, fields questions, and jots notes for himself on the pad of paper nested in the truck’s console.
When we turn off the main highway and bump slowly along the temporary dirt road that winds up the mountain, Neff points out tightly packed, small-diameter lodgepole pine as illustrative of the problems of this forest. The stands of thin trees are all the same species, the same age, and all are competing for the same resources, susceptible to the same pests. These stands are an easy target for bark beetles. Out the passenger window, I see the impact. Dead trees stand like skeletons among the green.
At the road’s end, the forest opens into a clearing where a fleet of machinery cuts, hauls, and chips trees marked by the Forest Service for removal. Neff hands me a hardhat and a neon vest to put on before we walk over to the semi parked on the edge of the clearing.