April 30, 2001 11:00 pm
ON THE JOB AGAIN: Matthew Gross, left and Jamie Calhoun were back to work Monday at Joseph's Timber's edger. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).
ON THE JOB AGAIN: Matthew Gross, left and Jamie Calhoun were back to work Monday at Joseph's Timber's edger. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

JOSEPH Some people are back to work in the county that has had the highest unemployment rate in the state.

The Joseph Timber Company sawmill reopened Monday with one shift of 25 people. It had been closed 5 months.

The planer is expected to start operating May 21, and 43 people will be employed by the end of the month, said Dave Shriner, the companys manager.

After that, Shriner hopes to have the mills new small-log processing unit completed and producing studs and vertical grain flooring from small-diameter timber. That will add five more jobs.

Then, there may be a possibility of a post and pole operation that would employ another three people.

Working with the mill to develop value-added products has been Wallowa Resources, a local non-profit organization that seeks to bring or retain family-wage jobs in the community through forest health improvement projects.

Wallowa Resources is infusing time and capital into Joseph Timber Company.

Shriner said he appreciates the contributions made by the boards well-rounded membership, which is familiar with different facets of business as well as resource and environmental issues.

The board makes an excellent go-between, Shriner said, helping to facilitate with organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service.

In better times, Joseph Timber employed 72 people in two shifts. Due to a lack of timber, 30 people were laid off in August. Another 37 people lost their jobs at the end of October. The mill remained closed due to market conditions and lack of available timber at competitive prices, Shriner said. There has not been a timber sale in the area for three years, he said.

In just the last year of the forest lockup, 102,000 acres burned up at a cost of $11 million, he said.

Its frustrating to see the waste, he said.

The situation might be getting better now with a new administration Shriner said. I am very encouraged by the appointment of Dale Bosworth as the new U.S. Forest Service chief.

Bosworth came from a state (Montana) where extensive fire devastation occurred.

He understands fuel-loading and catastrophic fire potential, Shriner said of Bosworth. I hope he comes to Wallowa County and sees our innovations and how a mill can be used as a tool to help improve forest health. Were trying to do it right.

Selective timber harvesting is needed to decrease the fuel-loading that contributes to a catastrophic fire potential, Shriner added.

The mill manager said he would like to see the Forest Service inventory the areas of catastrophic burn potential.

We know its going to burn. We just dont know when.