The Salmon Intermountain sawmill is traditionally closed through the winter months when snow closes logging roads. But the mill is still shuttered halfway into summer.
And president Dallas Olson says another 30 days will decide whether it ever reopens.
“We have to make a decision by the end of the month,” Olson said. “Right now, though, I have nothing to report. We don’t know where we are or what we’re going to do.”
Olson has steered the mill and its 48 workers through years of wild market swings, tougher environmental regulations and stiffer competition for fewer logs.
But now environmental appeals and bureaucratic red tape tied to endangered species restoration are holding up timber sales on the Salmon-Challis National Forest where stumpage rates have been pushed skyward by demand, and Olson may have no choice but to finally throw in the towel. The shutdown is costing the company $40,000 per month, he said.
Salmon Intermountain employees have grown accustomed to three-month long winter shutdowns forced by log shortages. But summer is pushing to a close and Olson still cannot get his hands on saw logs.
The Salmon-Challis has had nothing to sell except for one small sale bought by Darby Lumber of Montana for a price Olson said he just could not afford.
Forest Supervisor George Matejko expects the Salmon-Challis to sell only nine million board feet this year, down from 22 million in 1991. About 13 million are tied up now by the National Marine Fisheries Service and its plans to restore anadromous fish runs, he said. And one of two sales recently released by that agency was quickly appealed by environmentalists. Matejko said he is expecting the second sale to be appealed as well.
Two years ago, Salmon Intermountain bought 3 million board feet of federal timber near Panther Creek, pending the fisheries service’s approval. The trees were bug infested to begin with and have deteriorated so much now that they can no longer be logged. And the fisheries service still has not finished its review.
Joe Hinson, executive vice-president of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association in Coeur d’Alene, said the story is the same throughout the Northwest.
“The Forest Service just is not selling timber, period,” Hinson said. “They’ve lost their confidence in their ability to sell timber. They’ve lost their philosophical rudder. I’m not sure they know what they’re supposed to be doing any more.”
Recently signed legislation exempting salvage logging from appeals may open up some sales, but Matejko does not know how quickly they can be offered or whether they will require approval from the fisheries service.