Public, private effort saves sawmill

By Observer editorial October 01, 2012 02:45 pm
The last sawmill standing in Grant County will stand a while longer, thanks to a combined private and public effort to save it. People throughout Eastern Oregon should take note. In the fight to preserve a decent standard of living in rural communities, teamwork and determination can win out.

Back in August the Malheur Lumber Company, a mill in John Day employing 90 people, announced it would close Nov. 1 because it can’t get enough logs off nearby National Forests to continue operations. 

The loss of those jobs would be a deadly blow to Grant County, where unemployment currently stands at 10.6 percent. Not only that, the loss of mill infrastructure would hamper future efforts to rehabilitate and restore area forests. Fortunately there are people in the region and in the nation’s capital who understand the mill’s importance and are willing to take action to save it. 

As noted in a recent Wescom News Service story, private landowners stepped up the plate shortly after the closure announcement. They pledged to sell Malheur Lumber a million board feet of timber, enough to keep the mill going at least six weeks past the expected closure date. 

In the meantime, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Governor John Kitzhaber, local government, and community groups prodded the U.S. Forest Service to do more restoration work and hold more timber sales.

Funding help

Then, Ken Connaughton, the U.S. Forest Service’s Regional Forester, announced a $2.5 million allocation in Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration funds to the Malheur National Forest. Connaughton said a matching $2.5 million from the Forest Service and other programs for thinning and restoration work will make possible the harvest of  an additional 11 million board feet of timber from the Malheur annually. This month, the Forest plans to offer 11 million board feet of timber from already-prepared sales, and Malheur Lumber can bid on it.

Nobody’s saying those efforts are enough to save the Malheur Lumber Company mill permanently, but the disaster of a mill closure is averted for now.  And with Connaughton’s statement that thinning and restoration work on the Malheur National Forest will continue — with a corresponding increase in sales — there’s hope for a long-term solution. 

As shown in John Day this summer and fall, collaboration, cooperation, and community support are what the wood products industry needs most. Let’s hope what happened there is the start of a region-wide trend.