Addressing Challenges in Montana’s Timber Industry

Lumber is an international commodity, and the fate of Montana’s lumber mills lies with global forces

By Dave Hadden

The news out of Deerlodge isn’t very good. Fifty mill workers have lost their jobs – maybe permanently – due to the economic recession in China that has tanked demand, and the weak Canadian dollar that has led to a flood of cheap timber crossing our border from the north. The economic stress across the Montana timber-producing sector of the economy right now is severe.

Sun Mountain Lumber Company owner Sherm Anderson made the announcement on Sept. 12. Mr. Anderson stated the facts straight. And he did not blame other Montanans or “obstructionist” for the economic plight of his mill.

The key take-away from this news: Lumber is an international commodity, and the fate of Montana’s lumber mills lies with global forces.

This news, and the quiet distress being experienced by other Montana lumber mills, is important. So the question naturally arises: What will we do in Montana – and what will our congressional delegation do – to address the causes of this problem?

Right now, Montana’s congressional delegation is considering changes to the way U.S. Forest Service goes about handling timber sales. It’s absolutely vital that the Montana delegation identify the real problems and address them, deal with facts, and not build a solution based on fiction.

We have worked with the our state’s timber industry and conservationists to find a path forward that recognizes the value of our Montana mills and the water, wildlife and recreational value of our public lands. Thankfully, all the citizens and various constituencies who have chosen to engage in this conversation – at both the local and state level – now understands that we’re all in the same boat. Without question, some real differences remain. But, we’re all willing and learning to row in the same direction.

Regretfully, the Montana congressional delegation appears to be dealing with our national forest policies piecemeal and not cooperatively. So it seems timely to reiterate to our delegation key points of consensus:

  1. Work together. Sit down and get unified as a delegation on a way forward.
  2. Keep the legislative process transparent and collaborative.
  3. Help the existing national forest collaborative groups get to success.
  4. Focus legislation on large landscape solutions that benefit jobs and the environment.
  5. Address practical, broadly supported opportunities (e.g. fix wild fire funding).
  6. Fund the U.S. Forest Service adequately to deliver on its mission.
  7. Preserve the American right to challenge government decisions. And,
  8. Meet with Montanans to test your legislative agenda.

National forest legislation in the U.S. Congress isn’t going to fix China’s economy or the world commodity price of lumber. But it can make national forest management more efficient, predictable, and cost-effective. Our Montana mills’ economic plight is likely to persist for many months, if not years. So let’s get past blaming fellow Montanans for the problems of the forest products industry. We can best address this challenge by working together.

Dave Hadden, director
Heawaters Montana

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.