Idaho Mill Closes – Lack of Logs

An Idaho Stateman/AP article, “Northern Idaho lumber mill closes, laying off 40“:

A lumber mill in northern Idaho has closed down, leaving about 40 people without work.

The Lewiston Tribune reports ( ) that Tri-Pro Forest Products closed its Orofino mill on Tuesday. Resource Manager Mike Boeck says a lack of cedar logs forced the company to curtail operations at the Clearwater County mill over the past few weeks.

Tri-Pro had purchased 3 million to 4 million board feet of cedar in 2014 after the Johnson Bar Fire along the lower Selway River, but litigation by Friends of the Clearwater and Idaho Rivers United against the U.S. Forest Service stopped the transaction.

Boeck says that purchase could have kept the Orofino mill running for another six months.

Friends of the Clearwater and Idaho Rivers United officials say the sale was illegal.

20 thoughts on “Idaho Mill Closes – Lack of Logs”

  1. Is anyone planting and growing cedar, or is this mill just mining cedar from native forests and old growth ecosystems? Is that a sustainable industry?

    Cedar trees, both live and dead, are long-lived and long-lasting and have high value in the ecosystem. Forest practices on non-federal lands tend to disfavor cedar, so if we want cedar in the ecosystem we better conserve it on public lands.

    • I don’t know about Idaho, but many private landowners in Oregon plant western redcedar. I know on who planted 30% cedar on a recent harvest area, with the rest being Doug-fir and a few western white pines, along with the certainty on natural seeding in of western hemlock, alder, and bigleaf maple.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Interesting that you would completely cut off the response from Friends of the Clearwater’s Gary Macfarlane above, when it seemed like you were posted the entire article, you actually didn’t.

    Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director with Friends of the Clearwater in Moscow, said bidders on the sale knew it was facing a legal challenge.

    “We won in the court of law because the sale was illegal,” Macfarlane said. “… These are national forests. They do not belong to the lumber industry. They belong to all Americans.”

    Anyway, here’s more information on that lawsuit and why a U.S. Judge found it to be illegal (not “illegal” but just plain illegal…no quotes needed Steve). Turns out a timber sale within a Wild and Scenic River corridor raises some additional concerns, and U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale agreed, as she faulted the U.S. Forest Service for failing to adopt a comprehensive river management plan as required by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act more than 20 years ago. I guess that’s the enviros fault though too, right?

    BOISE— A federal court order issued late yesterday protects the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Wild and Scenic rivers from clear cuts and roads planned by the U.S. Forest Service following the 2014 Johnson Bar Fire.

    Two Idaho conservation groups – Idaho Rivers United and Friends of the Clearwater – argued that the Forest Service violated its duties to protect the Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and also failed to fully evaluate cumulative environmental impacts along with other private and state land logging and 2015 fires in the same area.

    U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale agreed. She faulted the agency for failing to adopt a comprehensive river management plan as required by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act more than 20 years ago.

    “Without objective, predetermined criteria, the public is left to trust the Forest Service’s ‘word’ that it considered all relevant factors necessary to protecting the Middle Fork Clearwater and Selway Rivers’ Wild and Scenic values and that the Project will not affect or have minimal impact upon the Wild and Scenic values,” she wrote.

    The Court also agreed the Forest Service failed to fully assess how the Johnson Bar project may cause mass erosion and sedimentation into area streams, which are habitat for imperiled salmon, steelhead and bull trout. She found the agency’s sediment delivery estimates “do not appear to accurately represent the Project’s overall sedimentation delivery to the river system.”

    IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said the Selway, one of America’s eight original Wild and Scenic Rivers, is too precious a resource for such haphazard work.

    “The Selway and Middle Fork Clearwater Rivers are among the crown jewels of our nation’s river systems, as Congress recognized back in 1968 when it protected them as the first rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” Lewis said. “This is an important court ruling enforcing Congressional direction that these are to be protected for present and future generations.”

    Laird Lucas, executive director of Advocates for the West, was lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
    “The Forest Service has not been candid with the public about this massive logging project that threatens harm to the Wild and Scenic rivers and their important fish populations,” Lucas said. “Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a federal court order to enforce the law and tell the Forest Service to do its job as Congress has directed.”

    Friends of the Clearwater Ecosystem Defense Director Gary Macfarlane said the Forest Service has already damaged Wild and Scenic values along the Selway via state and private timber sales.

    “We are pleased the federal court is willing to stand up and insist that the Wild and Scenic be protected,” he said.

    Citing irreparable harm, the judge’s order blocks logging until the case is fully resolved. Source:

  3. Matt, I pasted in the entire text of the article at that time — it has since been revised (at 1:29 this afternoon). In any case, I did provide the link.

    BTW, the revised article also has this:

    “It’s not that there’s a lack of resource,” Boeck said. “It’s that it gets tied up in litigation. These environmental groups have pretty much devastated our industry over the years. This isn’t a new problem.”

  4. The Johnson Bar Salvage Sale was proposed in/around the Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Clearwater and Lochsa River corridor on the Clearwater National Forest in north-central Idaho. It included a number of large clear-cuts, too. After the Forest Service refused to drop the sale, a federal judge ruled that the project broke multiple federal laws, and issued an injunction. Soon thereafter the Forest Service withdrew the illegal project. Lawless logging has no place on public lands, let alone in a beloved river corridor.

    • A beloved river corridor that had been burned by the 2015 Wash and Slide wildfires and the 2014 Johnson Bar Fire.

      FWIW, this article from May 8 has a photo of burned trees in the area.

      … and includes this paragraph”

      “It’s disappointing overreach,” Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said. “It’s a judge saying communities don’t matter in comparison to the Wild and Scenic values, that it’s OK for sediment to flow into the river if it’s all natural. What we have is a damaged forest that has a lot of fiber in it that needs to be taken out of there, or else it will be kindling for the next fire, for the next summer of smoke. We need to revamp how federal lands are managed, period. NEPA was passed with good intentions, but that law is being abused.”

      • Hi Steve,

        RE: “this article from May 8 has a photo of burned trees in the area.”

        If you are claiming, which it seems to me that you sort of are, that the trees in the one acre or two shown in the photography were actually the type of trees Tri-Pro Forest Products would’ve logged in the sale, I’m calling BS.

        I’m also calling BS that a picture showing an acre or two from a wildfire that was 13,261 acres in size is indicative of what the rest of the 13,260 acres looked like post-fire. FWIW, the official web page of the fire is here: People can look at lots of pictures themselves.

        • Matt, here’s the caption that went with the photo:

          “The Forest Service included this photo with its Johnson Bar Fire Salvage project decision. It portrays conditions the fire left behind in an area where the Forest Service had been developing projects to “improve the species, structural and age class diversity of forested ecosystems” even before the fire burned.”

          If anyone is interested, the project documents are here:

          The FEIS states:

          “The purpose of the Johnson Bar Fire Salvage Project would be to salvage dead and dying timber before it loses its economic value, which would assist in supporting the economic structure of local communities, and contribute to regional and national needs; and to reduce potential sediment inputs into the aquatic ecosystem by decommissioning approximately 20 miles of roads. Other benefits would include maintaining habitat structure, function, and diversity; improving overall watershed conditions; restoring early seral species on the landscape; and to provide improved forage for big game species. These actions are needed to move resource conditions in the project area from existing conditions toward desired future conditions. “

          • Thanks Steve. Yep, I read the caption and thought to myself that the photo doesn’t seem to indicate the trees that would’ve been logged, or even much of the actual condition of the forest post-fire.

            Anyway, do you happen to know if Tri-Pro has a state-of-the-art sawmill, or if it’s old and outdated? My guess would be the later. Anyway, doesn’t the notion that the mill was depending on a post-fire salvage logging sale of western red cedar perhaps mean that the ill would have closed if the fire had not burned at all, or burned some western red cedar? Also, what’s the market for western red cedar look like currently, and into the future, say compared with 10 or 20 or 50 years ago? Seems like lots of people are shying away from western red cedar and opting for cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain products these days when building decks, etc.

            • I don’t know about the mill. About western redcedar, the demand is still good, as far as I know, and is expected to continue to be. That’s why the landowner I mentioned is planting ~30% cedar.

              • FWIW. This is what one Clearwater resident just wrote in an email:

                Tri-pro in Orofino is an old mill that is long past today’s technology. The mill in Kamiah was even older and was purchased by Idaho Forest Group mostly to eliminate Blue North from being at the bidding table for timber sales. So first we are all responsible for nearly closing local schools, and now actually closing two mills. Or so goes the spin.

                • FWIW, Part 2. Also, just got this via email.

                  “Both my sons worked at the Tri pro plant in Priest River for about 6 and 8 months. The owners exploit the workers. For instance, they do not give holiday pay, instead of a day off they worked 4 – 10 hour days with pay. Since they are on first 40, they received no overtime. The Christmas bonus is miniscule. it is an awful place to work, just throwing boards for a living. The poor benefits and low pay are the result of industry breaking the Unions several years ago. In addition, they filled in a half-acre wetland that had breeding cinnamon teal.. this is legal according to the Army Corps….”

                  • Matt, the mill is a side issue. The key issue here is that the sale (and habitat enhancements, road decommissioning, etc.) was blocked though litigation.

                    • Oh, really Steve. “The mill is a side issue?”

                      Why is the post titled, “Idaho Mill Closes – Lack of Logs” then?

                      The timber sale was blocked because a federal court judge found that the U.S. Forest Service acted illegally. Clearly that’s the fault of enviros, right? Jeez….

                    • Matt, did Friends of the Clearwater or Idaho Rivers United participate in the project planning process, such as though a collaborative group?

                    • I don’t know Steve, why don’t you call Friends of the Clearwater or Idaho Rivers United and ask. Also, do you even know if there was a ‘collaborative’ group that worked on the ‘project planning process?’

                      My understanding is that the “project planning process” is done through the NEPA process and obviously FOC and IRU fully participated in the NEPA process.

                      Again, if the mill closure is a side issue, why in the world did you make the decision to title to the post “Idaho Mill Closes – Lack of Logs?”

                      Finally, Steve, any reaction to the account of what it’s like to work at Tri-Pro from the father of two employees? Oh, that’s right. The mill is a side issue.

    “This sounds like a case where shortcuts were taken to try to complete a project that was overtaken by events. Haste makes waste.”

    “…litigation by Friends of the Clearwater and Idaho Rivers United against the U.S. Forest Service stopped the transaction.” Why don’t reporters write, “The Forest Service’s failure to comply with the law stopped the transaction.” Along the same lines, the county commissioner blames the judge and suggests NEPA needs to be changed.

    • exactly- post-fire salvage tends to be rushed to retain tree value, and mistakes are made. Logging in a Wild and Scenic River? C’mon.

  6. I think NEPA does need to be changed. It is very expensive and of little real use.
    The environmental laws are written in such a way that if the environmental corporations chose to appeal a sale, it is very likely they will be successful. It is almost impossible to follow all the laws.
    I think the mill closure is a big deal. Of course there are many reasons to close a mill. (and there will always be someone to say bad things about working at the mill).
    The environmental corporations continue to be very efficient in eliminating the smaller family owned sawmills and making sure that our wood production is control by a few large multi-national corporations.
    As I was driving to town this morning I was thinking about all the timber that has burned up on Forest Service land and all salvageable material that has been left to rot. If we could of salvaged just 10% of it we could have a robust economy of small mills producing special natural wood products. (Yes, some people do like natural wood, and think they always will.)
    But, the environmental community has made this impossible.


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