On September 11, Oregon’s two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, announced that they had negotiated an arrangement to make enough timber available on Eastern Oregon’s Malheur National Forest to “postpone” the planned closure of Malheur Lumber Company’s John Day, Oregon saw mill. The mill had been scheduled for closing in November, due to timber withdrawal. According to the September 14 Oregonian, the managing director of the mill’s parent company “didn’t offer an estimate of how long the John Day mill could survive in the wake of this week’s deal,” but indicated that retooling the mill to process smaller-diameter trees, and adding a pellet mill to the site, have been under consideration for the past two years.
The deal the legislators referred to appears to have been a “pledge” from USFS Regional Forester Ken Connaughton to make more timber available, to accelerate the pace of restoration work, and to make available more funds for planning and offering timber sales, as well as to investigate means for non federal entities, such as counties, to fund forest work on federal lands.
The bipartisan tone of the response to the mill’s raw material crisis is notable. According to the Oregonian, Republican Representative Greg Walden has joined with Democratic Representatives Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader to support legislation to give Oregon more control over the so-called O&C Lands (managed under federal authority), and Rep. Walden hopes to open dialogue with the federal government about similar arrangements for other federally controlled lands.