CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. – After 80 years of operation, the last sawmill in Josephine County in southern Oregon is expected to shut its doors in April, another victim of government forest management policies and environmental lawsuits that have virtually destroyed the nation’s once thriving homegrown timber industry.
The Rough & Ready Lumber Co., a family-owned business six miles south of Cave Junction, with 145 people on its payroll, cannot continue to operate without a reliable source of timber, said John and Fred Kraus, the company’s managing owners. The prepared statement announcing the pending shutdown was released last December.
“The forests that surround Rough & Ready are over 80 percent federally owned, and with successful environmental litigation, no meaningful public timber volume has been sold since the mid-1990s,” they explained.
“While President Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan set aside vast acreages for conservation needs, it also assured a small, but predictable, log supply to support local communities and to produce valued products. This timber program on which we relied has not materialized due to continual litigation from environmental groups.”
For decades, the company – like hundreds of similar operations throughout the West – has logged and milled trees it purchased from the U.S. Forest Service in a bidding process, providing in return the lumber necessary for the nation’s houses, paper, furniture and thousands of other wood products. But beginning in the late 1980s, a barrage of lawsuits lodged by powerful, well-funded environmental groups against the agency over procedural matters has blocked the supply of logs, and one by one the mills have been forced to close.
The owners hope to sell the mill, and there is talk of the workers taking it over. But nothing is definite, and whoever buys it would face the same problems.
Some of the remaining mill workers at Rough & Ready. (Photo: Sam Newton, Illinois Valley News, used with permission.)
If it closes, which seems likely, the Rough & Ready will be the 20th sawmill in Josephine and Jackson counties to close its doors since 1975, according to the Medford Mail Tribune newspaper. There are only half a dozen mills left in the two counties, including Rough & Ready, which is the last mill operating in Josephine County and the only one left in the area that’s family owned.
22,654 jobs destroyed
Researcher and author Ron Arnold, in his 1999 book Undue Influence, reported that the spotted owl lawsuit alone resulted in the closure of 187 mills throughout Oregon, Washington and California and the loss of 22,654 jobs.
It’s not as though the demand for logs has diminished, but builders and manufacturers now purchase timber imported from other countries or from the smaller acreages of private land. Indeed, for several years the logs going through the Rough & Ready mill have come from the company’s private holdings, but cutbacks in the volume had to be made to keep supply sustainable.
As the public becomes aware of the plight of the sawmill and its soon-to-be-laid-off workforce – plus the impact the closing could have on local government budgets – questions are being raised in the community, and support for the company has been growing.
To call attention to the situation, the local chapter of a newly regrouped People for the USA Grange sponsored a rally Feb. 14. Waving American flags and picket signs, some 255 protesters – sawmill employees and their supporters – joined the three-hour, mid-day protest in front of the U.S. Forest Service’s ranger district office in Cave Junction.
Auctioneer Dan Vest used his considerable vocal powers to recall some relatively recent events. Striding to the podium, he turned up the volume on the microphone “so President Bush can hear what I have to say,” and launched into a straightforward history lesson:
“When the enviros first came around we said on our bumper stickers, ‘Kiss my AXE,’ and they did kiss our axe – and our log trucks, and our skidders, and our mills and our jobs – They kissed them goodbye.”
Rally in Cave Junction, Ore. (Photo: Sam Newton, Illinois Valley News, used with permission.)
What the company and its supporters find particularly egregious – as they made clear in their statements and on their picket signs – is not only that loggers are not being allowed to cut standing trees or so-called old growth, but that even dead trees are placed off limits. The trees the company would like to harvest right now are among the tens of thousands burned during last summer’s devastating Biscuit fire, Oregon’s biggest wildfire in over a century.
Ignited by a lightening strike July 13, the fire raged through the Siskiyou National Forest, destroying 99 percent of the 180,000-acre Kalmiopsis Wilderness and threatening homes and businesses in the Illinois Valley, including WorldNetDaily’s corporate headquarters in Selma, Ore., 12 miles north of Cave Junction. In late July it crossed the California-Oregon boundary into neighboring Six Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County, where it burned 29,000 acres. It was not fully contained until early September – when a 400-mile firebreak completely surrounding the area was finished. The fire was not actually “out” until the rains came.
That 500,000 acres of fire-blackened forest translates into over 1 billion board feet of salvageable lumber outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, lumber that is right now rotting on the ground. According to the Forest Service, if that timber is not harvested promptly it will be too decayed and bug-infested to be of any use as timber. The Forest Service recommends timber salvage for at least part of the forest and assesses the benefits on its Biscuit fire website:
One benefit of harvesting dead, merchantable-sized trees is the production of various forest products. … An additional economic benefit is local employment to harvest and mill the trees, as well as financing reforestation and restoration work. Other objectives for salvaging dead timber include hazard tree abatement near travel routes and recreation sites, reduced fuel loadings, and safety and site preparation for reforestation activities.
The Forest Service recognizes the dangers inherent in not removing burned trees:
The economic value in fire-killed trees is limited by time due to the natural deterioration and decay of dead wood. Generally, 20 percent of the gross volume in Douglas-fir trees deteriorates during the first year. This results in small merchantable Douglas-fir trees (8-12 inches in diameter), becoming unmerchantable within the first year. After three to four years of deterioration, most trees will be unmerchantable.
Nonetheless, the Service will not be able to put so much as a stick of timber up for sale any time soon, as it must first create an environmental impact statement – an EIS – and that will not be completed before the end of the year. If salvage logging is considered feasible, the EIS is certain to be followed by lawsuits, by which time the wood will be worthless.
“We understand that little timber will be sold, and only after a long planning and legal process,” the Krauses said in their statement. “The wood will have deteriorated so far by that time it will have little to no economic value.
“At a time when the state of Oregon is in such desperate need for economic stimulus, it is not only appalling to miss this opportunity to harvest dead trees, but makes us certain that we cannot count on the harvest of green timber in the future.”
One reason for the protest was to make the public aware that the “bureaucratic process of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is killing the chances of the Rough & Ready Lumber Company mill from being purchased,” rally organizers stated in a press release. “We are asking for federal pre-emption and a declaration as a disaster area so that the EIS process can be waived.”
Jim Nolan, who heads the local PFUSA Grange committee, explained the situation further to WorldNetDaily.
“We need a national emergency declared here,” he said. “This is a situation involving federal land, and it’s causing a lot of economic stress. The president’s going to have to be the one to step in and do it.”
The Forest Service is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Nolan said that as its head, Secretary Anne Veneman, could order the pre-emption of the EIS, but he doubted that she would.
“There is an opportunity to do something,” he said. “It’s time for Congress and the president to part the waters and make something happen.”
Local eco-lobbyists say it is unfair to blame their groups and litigation for the desperate straits in which the company and others finds itself. Rather, the blame should be placed on the global economy and the supply of timber from oversees that has undercut American suppliers in the marketplace.
“The factors that led to this are much larger than anything environmentalists ever did,” Steve Marsden told the Mail Tribune in December, in response to the Krauses’ announcement of the mill closure.
Described by reporter Paul Fattig as a “longtime environmental activist,” Marsden is the executive director of the Siskiyou Project, based in Takilma, Ore., near Cave Junction.
The Siskiyou Project (originally called Kalmiopsis Earth First!) was the lead organization pushing for then-President Clinton to use his executive powers to designate the area as a million-acre national monument, to be known as the Siskiyou Wild Rivers National Monument.
As reported by WorldNetDaily, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s decision not to recommend a last-minute designation to Clinton may well have been prompted by the display of obvious opposition to the proposal on the part of the local community. Local PFUSA members organized a rally to greet Babbitt who was scheduled to visit the area in early January 2001, just days before George Bush’s inauguration. Several hundred people turned out to make clear their disapproval of the proposal.
Although Babbitt said he thought the area “merited designation,” he declined to make an actual recommendation, opting instead to slap a two-year moratorium on mining claim development, which was viewed by some as a “consolation prize” to environmentalists.
It was hoped that with the new administration the forest management policies established during the Clinton years would be reversed. In fact, little has been changed. The eco-lobby still makes it extremely difficult to log timber – even burned timber – in the national forests, the remaining mills are closing, and workers are being laid off.
Marsden expressed sympathy for those employees who are facing layoffs, but laid the blame exclusively on the changes in trade policies and markets.
‘Compete or die’
“The industry has been changing since the ’70s. It’s a global industry now. You either compete or you die,” he said. “You can’t fault the environmentalists on this one. Small mills can’t compete with overseas companies and large corporations.”
Marsden specifically cited trade laws like the North American Free Trade Agreement for having made it difficult for small firms to survive.
“According to the (Bush) administration, this (global trade) is good for all of us, but they haven’t talked to the employees who are losing their jobs,” he said.
The Krauses don’t deny their industry has been affected by the importation of cheap lumber that’s been logged in countries with virtually no environmental restrictions, but they insist that there are indeed other factors.
Speaking at the rally Jennifer Kraus Phillippi, granddaughter of the founder of the company and John and Fred Kraus’ niece, challenged the notion that a failure by the industry to compete – which implies inefficiency on the part of its operations – was the determining factor in its demise. No industry can compete or succeed if it’s denied access to available resources.
“With a creative and flexible work force, the company has always been able to adjust to volatile log and lumber markets, but ingenuity, flexibility and determination cannot overcome a lack of raw material,” she stated bluntly.
Given that 80 percent of the forest is federally owned, “when 100 percent of that is taken away as a community resource, we have lost all semblance of balance,” she added.
Phillippi also expressed concern about the forest being closed not only to logging, but also to almost every other human activity.
“And it’s not just forestry that we’re losing. Our ability to drive, and even hike, in the forest is being limited, as our access to the woods is lost,” she said. “Broad decommissioning of roads will preclude even the eco-tourism that is so often touted as an economic alternative to forestry.”
But the impact on the local economy isn’t the only thing to be concerned about, says Nolan.
As he sees it, there is in fact not one but two emergencies: “One is an economic problem that’s causing an economic devastation to us caused by the fire and the Forest Service’s mismanagement. The second is the forest’s health. There are a billion board feet outside the wilderness area and another 2 billion inside of it that’s burned to a crisp. They’re not going to touch that.
“So, one, we need to get a billion [board feet] out of there to cut down on the insect infestation. And two, we need to replant as soon as possible, as quickly as possible so we don’t have to wait three to 50 years for the evergreen trees to overcome the oaks and brush that will come back first. That’s the way the forest grows: If you don’t go back and replant by human hand, it’ll take 30 to 50 years for the deciduous trees to grow back over the top of the brush. And in between that time we’ll be subject to more fires and more disasters because they’ll only have nothing but a whole mass of dried burnt timber in that forest.
“They’re basically setting us up for another burn,” he said.
He could well be right – and he need not look far for proof. Lack of prompt action in dealing with an earlier incident was a major factor in the size of a 1999 Megram fire that burned over 50,000 acres in northern California, and was part of the even bigger 125,000-acre Big Bar Complex.
The Megram fire
In 1995, a “blow down” leveled trees on several thousand acres of Six Rivers National Forest. Forest supervisor Lou Woltering made a decision to salvage-log approximately 1,204 acres of blown down and snapped off trees. His decision was appealed and eventually reversed. According to a Forest Service statement, “most of the blown down area could not be treated due to wilderness and roadless areas, appeal and time.” The plan was scrapped.
Four years later, the Megram fire began on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and burned into the Six Rivers forest, “where it burned into thousands of acres of the blow down, as predicted.”
Following a number of public meetings and extensive analysis, a plan was drafted to salvage log a miniscule amount of the 50,000 acres of burned timber. Specifically, a project was designed to create strategic fuel breaks on ridges and key roads where firefighters could safely and effectively fight future fires and protect the communities of Willow Creek, Salyer and Hawkins Bar, as well as individual homes along the Trinity River.
The project would treat fuels on 1,050 acres of high-severity burned strands – salvage logging 863 acres (1.7 percent of the total acres burned) and “un-merchantable fuel treatments” on 187 acres. “Salvage logging would have provided a means for paying for fuel treatment,” the statement points out, adding that “public involvement and cooperation with [the] public [and] agencies was extensive, involving news releases, website information and public meetings.”
Woltering announced on July 9, 2001, that he had made a decision to implement the project. His decision was appealed but upheld by the regional forester. On Oct. 16, 2001, several environmental groups filed a lawsuit asserting that the plan’s EIS violated the Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Plan.
Those filing the suit were the Environmental Protection Information Center, Sierra Club, California Wilderness Coalition, Klamath Forest Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center and Forest Conservation Council.
On April 17, 2002, federal district Judge Maxine M. Chesney issued an opinion agreeing with the eco-advocates, and on Aug. 6 – a week after the Biscuit fire entered Six Rivers National Forest – issued an order to the U.S. Forest Service to withdraw the Record of Decision.
“Based on this order, I am withdrawing the Record of Decision for this project,” said Woltering in a press release. There would be no salvaging of trees from the Megram fire.
The Megram fire is just one of hundreds of examples of what timber companies and communities are up against.
Another salvage plan nixed
Ironically, the very day Nolan and the protesters were urging that Congress and the president “part the waters and make things happen,” by putting the salvage sales process for the Biscuit fire on a fast track, the ground was opening beneath sawmill owners in another part of the state. A U.S. district judge nixed plans to allow the salvaging of 15,000 burned trees (1.7 billion board feet) several counties away in Malheur National Forest. His ruling could be a caution to lumber companies like Rough & Ready that hold hopes for a speedup of the regulatory process.
“U.S. District Judge Ancer L. Haggerty quickly rejected arguments by federal and timber industry attorneys that environmental groups use one-size-fits-all legal arguments as their personal ‘magical incantations’ to shut down logging on public lands,” the Oregonian newspaper reported the following day.
According to the Oregonian: “Haggerty shut down six of seven timber sales in the Malheur after finding that the U.S. Forest Service had illegally tried to squeeze the sales through a procedural shortcut that permits pruning and clearing of roadside brush. He allowed one sale along a busy country road to remove trees that could fall on the road.
“The move blocked the same kind of shortcut the Bush administration has proposed using to speed small logging and thinning projects.”
This was the fourth logging project Haggerty has stopped in eastern and central Oregon in the past year on the grounds that federal foresters had not thoroughly examined the environmental impacts. Each of these was contested by an entity called the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, which is a project of the League of Wilderness Defenders, a tax-exempt advocacy group based in Eugene, Ore.
Michael Dundy, attorney for the D.R. Johnson Lumber Co., which bought four of the seven sales, maintained that the eco-group used “boilerplate arguments” to stop the harvesting and that the group’s goal is “to eliminate any human involvement whatsoever in the management of forest lands.”
He told the court that the Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project “wants to condition the courts of Oregon so that when they utter the magic words, there is only one right way of deciding the case.”
Judge Haggerty disagreed and ruled that the Forest Service could “easily have completed a public review so that the Malheur logging could proceed legally.” Cutting the 15,000 trees violates a federal provision that allows pruning and removal of limited trees that involve minimal environmental impacts, he said. Apparently the fact that this would have added months, possibly years to the project, was ignored.
The demonstrators at the Forest Service ranger district office in Cave Junction were not aware of Haggerty’s ruling, but it serves to underscore the purpose of the rally – that something must be done and fast.
Richard McNamara, with PFUSA in Del Norte County (in the northwest corner of California), reports in a statement that speaker Dan Vest reminded everyone that when ships are in trouble, other ships have a legal, and more importantly, a moral obligation to respond. When ships need help, they broadcast the cry, “Mayday.”
“Well,” comments McNamara, “there are no shortages today of communities in trouble. … We are in distress, don’t remain guilty of waiting too long, take up the cry, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY.”
Editors note: The PFUSA Grange committee does not have a website, although one is being developed and is expected to be online within a few weeks. Officers may be contacted at their individual e-mail addresses: Nolan at [email protected] and secretary Katherine Van Tuyl at [email protected].