Shutdown cuts into regional logging

CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON/Daily Sentinel file photo—The partial government shutdown stopped projects in national forests for logging companies such as Montrose Forest Products, left.

Local companies involved in logging and related projects on national forests are relieved to be able to get back to work after chain saws were silenced and some workers sidelined by this month’s partial government shutdown.

Roughly 25 logging and trucking contractors for Montrose Forest Products were unable to work during the shutdown because the Forest Service prevented work on timber sale contracts on area forests, said Norm Birtcher, resource forester for the sawmill north of Montrose.

That also cut into production coming into the mill for two weeks “at a crucial time of year” when the mill is trying to stockpile at least 12 weeks of inventory for when forest logging must be suspended during the spring thaw, he said.

“The mill is in jeopardy of shutting down this spring a couple of weeks because of the logs we were unable to bring in,” Birtcher said.

About 90 people work at the mill, with another 60 or so doing trucking, logging and road-building contract work, he said. Some contractor crews were able to shift to private-land timber to keep working and supplying the mill.

The shutdown also affected Hotchkiss-based West Range Reclamation, which does forest health and fuels-reduction treatment work, including under federal forest stewardship contracts.

In a company statement released by spokesperson Pam Motley, the company said due to the shutdown it “had to pull several of our crews off of priority forest health and fuels reduction treatments around the state. In some cases, we were able to move crews to private land we had under contract. It was difficult financially for us to not have other crews working. We are happy to get back to work.”

As of early August, West Range had about 60 employees working around the state, including around 10 at its Hotchkiss office.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., in a news release Thursday, the first day after the shutdown’s end, urged the Forest Service to expedite efforts to get timber sales and forest stewardship contracts back up and running.

“These efforts, which are used to produce timber products and biomass energy, are essential to forest management and to reduce wildfire risks throughout Colorado,” said Udall, who added, “Jobs are at stake.”

Birtcher said Montrose Forest Products was notified at 6 p.m. Thursday it could resume the contract work.

Montrose Forest Products is owned by Wyoming-based Neiman Enterprises. Birtcher said three sawmills Neiman owns in the Black Hills of South Dakota suspended operations after running out of logs due to the combined effects of the shutdown and recent blizzards there.

He questions why the Forest Service didn’t designate a few personnel as essential employees to oversee the Montrose mill’s contract operations, rather than allowing the layoffs of workers whose taxes enrich the U.S. Treasury.

“I hate to see people out of work really for nothing,” he said.

He estimated it would have taken only three or four Forest Service employees to supervise the work, and noted that those employees ended up getting back pay for their time on furlough.

“They were being paid anyway,” he said. “Why not allow them to work?”


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