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Swanson's to close down Glendale sawmille

A stagnant housing industry, predatory foreign competition and environmental litigation at home have sunk Swanson Group's Glendale sawmill.

The Glendale plant in southern Douglas County will shut down when its present log inventory is depleted, while Swanson's Roseburg mill will reduce operations by two-thirds. The cutbacks will affect 90 employees in all, company President Steve Swanson said Thursday in a news release.

"Unfortunately, we are seeing no positive signs in the U.S. housing market, U.S.-Canada trade relations or federal timber supply, which have made today's decision a harsh reality," said Swanson.

Even when the economy swings back, the Glendale mill may not have enough access to logs to reopen. The Douglas County mill has historically depended on forests in the Bureau of Land Management's Medford district for the majority of its logs. The company said environmental litigation and the Obama administration's stance have reduced the district's supply to a trickle, providing less than 4 percent of the sawmill's needs. The Glendale plant, which employed 130 people at full capacity, was revamped to handle smaller-diameter logs in recent decades.

"Everyone's running on a curtailed schedule and suffering because of the market," said Bob Ragon, spokesman for the Douglas Timber Operators. "The question is, why would you keep going when you've got pain in front of you?"

The Canadian issue isn't going away, he said, with the government selling timber to lumber companies at rates far below what American companies must pay for logs.

"The Canadian government believes in full employment and encourages the mills to run even in poor markets," Ragon said. "They accomplish that by selling timber at rock-bottom prices."

Swanson has laid off workers in Glendale several times in recent years, cutting the work force from a peak of 450 employees in the early 2000s. The Roseburg cutbacks will trim the plant's operating hours from 60 a week to about 20.

The company also operates mills in Noti and Springfield as well as a helicopter fleet and a wholesale forest products distribution unit.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.