Both the timber industry and U.S. Forest Service are cutting jobs in the Inland Northwest, a consequence of soft lumber prices, declining federal spending and a smaller timber harvest.
Thirty-two employees of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests will accept a $20,000 bonus to leave their jobs as of Jan. 2.
The shrinking staff reflects less federal funding and declining timber harvests, Supervisor Dave Wright said.
The Panhandle Forests’ budget has dropped from $32 million in 1992 to $28 million today. If inflation is figured in, the forests receive the equivalent of $24 million in 1992 dollars, Wright said.
In the early 1990s, the Panhandle Forests offered as much as 240 million board feet of timber for sale per year.
Now, the average is close to 75 million board feet of timber.
The timber industry blames environmental regulations for the declining sales. But timber prices are depressed, overseas demand for logs is soft and the industry hasn’t purchased all of the timber offered in the Panhandle Forests for most of the past eight years.
The layoffs will eliminate 20 jobs in the supervisor’s office in Coeur d’Alene, seven field positions and five jobs in the nursery in Coeur d’Alene.
The Panhandle Forests will save $1.5 million beginning in fiscal year 1999.
The savings aren’t immediate because of the cost of paying the departing employees their bonuses and other retirement costs.
More than 300 jobs are being eliminated across Region 1, which includes national forests in North Idaho and Montana. Thirty-five of the jobs will be in the Clearwater National Forest.
One consequence of the cuts is elimination of the personnel office from the Panhandle Forests and the Nez Perce National Forest. The personnel operation for all three Idaho national forests will be centered at the Clearwater National Forest’s main office in Orofino.
The Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington, which is part of a different region, is eliminating eight positions under the buyout program.
In the Panhandle Forests, most of the people taking the Jan. 2 buyout have worked for the agency for 25 years and are at least 55 years old, Wright said. That qualifies them for federal retirement.
For employees such as Carl Gidlund, public affairs chief for the forest, the offer is irresistible. Gidlund estimates his take-home pay will drop only about $1.45 an hour.
The Panhandle Forests has been making cuts for the past five years. Since 1992, it has cut 158 jobs, not including the 32 in January.
“It’s emotional to lose all of the people with the skills, like Carl,” Wright said. On the other hand, the fact that so many people are willing to take the buyout means no one will be forced to transfer.
The local timber industry also is trimming jobs. Potlatch Corp. announced it will cut 40 jobs at its plywood plants in St. Maries and Pierce, Idaho.