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Family seeks buyer for Rough & Ready sawmill

CAVE JUNCTION ' The last sawmill in Josephine County is on the chopping block.

Citing a lack of available federal timber stemming from litigation brought by environmental groups, owners of Rough & Ready Lumber Co. say they either will sell the facility or begin liquidating it this spring.

If in the next 30 to 45 days we can find a viable buyer, we will negotiate the sale of the operation, said John Krauss, vice president of the family-owned firm, in a prepared statement.

If not, we will pursue an orderly liquidation of our inventories and close down in the spring.

About 145 jobs will be lost if the mill closes, he said.

The sawmill, which cuts both small and large logs, was established 59 years ago about six miles south of Cave Junction by the Krauss family.

However, the family originally started milling lumber in the upper Deer Creek drainage of Selma about 80 years ago.

Following World War II, when federal forestlands were made available to loggers to cut timber to meet a national demand, family firms like Rough & Ready flourished, timber industry historians say.

When federal timber availability began to decrease in recent years because of efforts on the Siskiyou National Forest to protect fish and wildlife habitat, the family countered by increasing its private forest holdings, said John Krauss and his brother, Fred, in a joint statement.

However, the firm also competed with historically low-priced lumber being imported from Canada, South America and New Zealand, they added.

As a result, the firm could not survive in a high-priced local log market created by environmental constraints while facing a fiercely competitive global lumber market, they noted.

Environmental and trade policies of the federal government make it difficult for a small lumber business to operate competitively in a worldwide market, they added.

But Steve Marsden, a longtime environmental activist and Illinois Valley resident, rejects the argument that places blame on environmental groups.

While expressing sympathy for those who may lose their jobs, Marsden said the end of what is a local institution was brought on by outside forces.

The factors that led to this is much larger than anything environmentalists ever did, he said. The industry has been changing since the '70s. It's a global industry now. You either compete or you die.

You can't fault the environmentalists on this one, he added. Small mills can't compete with overseas companies and large corporations.

Trade laws like the North American Free Trade Act have made it difficult for small firms to survive, he concluded.

According to the (Bush) administration, this (global trade) is all good for us, he said. But they haven't talked to the employees who are losing their jobs.

Meanwhile, the Krausses also criticized the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan for not producing anywhere near the promised — billion board feet of logs from national forests in the region.

This timber program, on which we relied, has not materialized ' largely due to continued litigation by environmental groups, the brothers said.

And they took the Forest Service to task for not quickly making available salvage trees burned in the 500,000-acre Biscuit fire that raced largely through the Siskiyou forest last summer. The agency has said it would take a year to analyze the potential salvage, which the Krausses say could be as much as — billion board feet outside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area.

Although members of the Krauss family did not return telephone calls, a spokeswoman for the firm said the family prefers to sell rather than liquidate the mill.

This is devastating for everyone ' all of our employees, she said. We're also concerned about the community as well as the county. There are so few job opportunities here.

Citing the efforts by generations of local employees who have worked for the firm, the Krauss brothers said they were appreciative of their years of dedication.

The firm's owners are working with the state and local agencies to help any workers who lose their jobs because of the decision.

CAVE JUNCTION ' If the Rough & Ready sawmill closes, it would be the 20th mill ' producing lumber or plywood ' in Josephine and Jackson counties to cease operation since 1975.

That includes five mills in Medford, five in Grants Pass, three in White City, three in Central Point, one in Ashland, one in Rogue River and one in Kerby.

Including the Rough & Ready mill, there are now half a dozen mills left in the two counties. However, the Illinois Valley mill is the last one operating in Josephine County, and the last one in the region that is family owned.

Although the closures aren't all directly attributable to a reduction in federal timber availability, timber industry officials cite that trend as a principal cause in mill closures.The following indicates million board feet of timber sold on the Bureau of Land Management's Medford District and the Rogue River and Siskiyou national forests each year since 1970:

Year Medford District Rogue RiverSiskiyou

1970 274 — 198 243

1980 213 — 234 228

1990 57 — 197 137

2000 — 57 — 0.6 — 1

A worker stacks lumber at the Rough & Ready Lumber Co. south of Cave Junction Thursday. The last family-owned mill in Josephine and Jackson counties is up for sale. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven