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Salvage stall may force sawmill to close

Rough & Ready Lumber could permanently shut down unless regulatory processes are waived

CAVE JUNCTION ' Uncle Sam needs to cut the bureaucratic red tape tying up the salvage of Siskiyou National Forest timber burned by last year's Biscuit fire to save a local sawmill, say salvage supporters.

Unless regulatory processes are waived, the Rough & Ready Lumber Co. sawmill already on the economic ropes will close forever and the salvageable timber, estimated to be 1-billion plus board feet, will be lost to decay and insect infestation, they say.

There is an opportunity now to do something, said Illinois Valley resident Jim Nolan. It's time for Congress and the President to part the waters and make something happen.

Specifically, he and others supporting timber salvage want to see the Forest Service's planned environmental impact statement (EIS) canceled, freeing the salvageable timber now and keeping the sawmill operating.

If it doesn't happen, there would be no purchaser for the local mill, which needs the timber to keep operating, he said.

Late last year, the owners of the family owned sawmill announced the mill would close this spring if a purchaser couldn't be found. The mill employs about 145 people.

To make their point, Nolan and other local members of the People for the USA, a group supporting multiple use of federal lands, will join sawmill employees and other pro-salvage supporters in protest rally here Friday.

The rally is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Illinois Valley Ranger District office at the south end of Cave Junction.

We believe that Congress can do a couple of things to resolve this, Nolan said. They can declare this a national federal disaster and waive the requirements for an EIS (environmental impact statement).

The other option is that President Bush, who flew over the half-million-acre Biscuit fire during a visit to Southern Oregon late last August, may be able to waive the requirements by executive action, he said.

This (EIS) is an ironic twist of good intentions, he said. They (Forest Service) are doing the EIS to cover all the bases.

Yet, Mother Nature didn't do an EIS for the fire sparked by lightening, he noted.

Tom Link, the forest's Biscuit fire project manager, said the Forest Service is mandated by federal law to continue the environmental process.

That's not something within our authority to do, he said of waiving the EIS process. We have fixed rules like the National Environmental Policy Act that we have to follow. That's federal law.

Observing that he understands the frustration salvage supporters feel, he said the agency has completed its post-fire assessment and is about to begin the EIS process.

That generally takes at least nine months, he said of completing an EIS. That's something we really can't do anything about.

Salvage proponents are also concerned that environmental groups, who have largely opposed salvage, citing potential environmental damage, may bring litigation to block salvage plans.

The sawmill's owners cited several factors in the decision to close, including market conditions and environmental constraints. They also took the Forest Service to task for not quickly making available salvage timber from the Biscuit fire.

Several groups, including its employees, have expressed interest in purchasing the mill that began operating nearly 60 years ago.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at