Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., announced Tuesday that Malheur Lumber has agreed to remain open past its planned November closure, thanks to a commitment by the Forest Service to make more timber volume available on the Malheur National Forest.
In response to requests from the senators, Gov. John Kitzhaber, Grant County government, and local community groups, Regional Forester Kent Connaughton, who oversees Region 6, including the Malheur National Forest, told the senators in a letter that the USFS will accelerate timber sales and take other steps to speed up forest restoration work and provide a supply of timber for local mill.
“Ochoco Lumber is a vital part of the John Day community, and their mill represents the kind of infrastructure we can’t afford to lose if we hope to restore eastern Oregon’s overstocked forests,” Wyden said. “We have plenty of hard work ahead of us, but I promise to keep fighting with the rest of the Oregon delegation to get the Forest Service and the mill what they need.”
“I’m thankful to Regional Forester Connaughton for his swift reaction that indicates the Forest Service will take urgent action to provide more timber, and to John Shelk for keeping his mill doors open on this John Day institution. I am also grateful to the others in the state and community that have stepped up and demonstrated their support of this mill,” Wyden said.
“Closure of the mill would be devastating,” said Merkley. “The livelihood of so many families, the broader Grant County economy, and the vitality of our forests are all on the line. Thus, this reprieve is joyous and welcome news indeed.
"It must be recognized, however, that more work needs to be done. We need to fully secure a long-term, sustainable supply of sawlogs with the full commitment to the planning and field resources necessary to make that happen.”
“I continue to work on all options to create jobs in our forests and forested communities and provide more timber for mills across Oregon,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).
“The crux of the problem is the need to reduce the regulatory gridlock that drives the cost of producing timber and jobs through the roof and largely prevents our land managers from doing work needed to improve forest health and create jobs in and value from our forests," the congressman said.
"Communities and businesses must have access to the natural resources that surround them to create jobs and reduce the risk and occurrence of wildfire.”
In light of the Forest Service letter, as well as an outpouring of support for Malheur Lumber from the Oregon delegation, the governor, county commissioners, the Blue Mountain Forest Partners collaborative and the John Day community, Shelk said Ochoco will put the mill closure on hold, at least for the next few months.
“This commitment is a good first step, and I’m thankful to Senator Wyden and the rest of the delegation for putting in the hard work that gives me the confidence to keep our mill running,” Shelk said. “Thanks to their efforts, and the outstanding community support over the past few weeks, we’ve authorized our foresters to buy enough public and private timber to keep the mill in operation past the planned November closure.”
Other statements reacting to the announcement:
Gov. Kitzhaber: “Malheur Lumber is a key cog in the economy of Eastern Oregon. I am gratified by the outpouring of support for Malheur Lumber and the Blue Mountain collaborative, and appreciate the work that the Forest Service and Senator Wyden are doing to keep this mill open. The state is working with Senator Wyden and the rest of the Oregon delegation to find solutions that will keep our vanishing mill infrastructure and jobs in place.”
Susan Jane Brown, founding member, Blue Mountains Forest Partners: “We appreciate the efforts of Senator Wyden and the rest of the Oregon delegation to address the challenge of retaining critical infrastructure in Grant County, and look forward to continuing our work together to restore our public forests in eastern Oregon."
Russ Hoeflich, Oregon State Director for The Nature Conservancy: “We are so appreciative of Senator Wyden for his leadership to save Malheur Lumber from the brink of closure. His rapid efforts to unite with Senator Merkley, FS leadership from DC, Portland, to the Malheur National Forest along with the governor, Grant County Commissioners, and the local community collaborative groups was key,” Hoeflich said. “He found a solution that can meet the needs of Malheur Lumber, the John Day community and in the process significantly advances the conservation needs of the Malheur National Forest.”
In a letter to Senator Wyden and the Oregon delegation, Regional Forester Connaughton committed to several steps that could immediately allow a larger timber harvest and increase restoration work on the Malheur National Forest, including:
· Confirms the $2.5 million allocation of Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration funds for the Malheur National Forest and the matching $2.5 million from existing Forest Service appropriations and partner funds. This will enable the USFS to treat an estimated 20,000 acres annually and produce 40 million board feet per year.
· The Forest Service Malheur National Forest will offer 11 million board feet of already-prepared timber sales this month. Additionally, other timber sales will be moved up. For fiscal year 2013 the Malheur Forest will offer 50 to 60 million board feet and similar efforts planned for 2014.
· The Forest Service will look at utilizing new tools under the National Environmental Policy Act on the Malheur and move to begin a new 10-year stewardship contract as a means to increase acres treated and timber volume.
· The Agency will work to continue to expand acres treated and timber volume in future years, recognizing that additional new funding will be needed on the forest to sustain these harvest level, as well as continued collaborative and community support.
· It also outlines other creative options, which may require Federal legislation, to allow the Forest Service to fully take advantage of offers of county and state financial assistance.