Logging operations became a victim of the federal government budget impasse after the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) suspended timber contracts on federal lands throughout the nation.
In an Oct. 3 letter to regional foresters, Craig Bobzien, acting director of forest management at the USFS, directed timber sales contracting officers to send notices to 450 logging operations “to delay or suspend operations until notified otherwise.”
“Under the current lapse in appropriations the Forest Service is unable to administer existing timber sale and Integrated Resource Timber Contracts except for the minimal activities necessary to bring about a prompt and orderly suspension of ongoing operations,” Bobzien wrote in the Oct. 3 letter.
Steve Brink with the California Forestry Association says about a dozen of his group’s members will be affected by the suspensions, although, so far, none have received shutdown notices from the contract officers who control the timber sales.
Brink says it’s difficult to determine the cost of the shutdown on logging companies. “Every woods contractor’s situation will be different as far as cost,” he says. “Many would do their erosion control this week, and then pull their equipment out, go to another job, and not come back this season when the suspension is lifted.”
According to the USFS, 2.5 billion board feet of timber was harvested from 150 national forests in 2012, a 2.5% increase over the 2.44 billion board feet cut in 2011. The USFS says loggers have taken 2.8 billion board feet out of federal forest in the first three quarters of 2013.
The logging suspension will eventually impact mills that make wood products. In Montana, the eight mills there derive 8 to 14% of their logs from public lands. Julia Altemus, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association, says forest service officials told her that they would try to curtail the impact of the shutdown on logging operations.
“We were assured that they were going to try to make sure that jobs kept going,” Atlemus says. “And, if they have to do a shutdown, they wanted to make it orderly.”
She says in 1995 when a similar budget stalemate shut the federal government down for 29 days, logging operations were allowed to continue. "I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t have come up with a different solution,” she says. ”It feels like we’re a political pawn in this whole mess that’s going on in D.C.”
The timber contract suspension, the coming winter, and environmental litigation, which has tied 100 million board feet of timber in legal knots, will likely result in curtailed operations at wood products manufacturers throughout the state, Altemus says.
“These guys are resilient and they’re very committed to their employees and the communities in which they live,” she says. “We’ll figure it and continue on.”