Federal money allocated for eastern Oregon forest projects, to create more than 200 jobs

Malheur Lumber Co. in John Day has come close to going under. Despite being perched on the edge of the Malheur National Forest, timber sale reductions have made it hard for the mill to operate on a steady basis. 

“We’ve had some close calls the last few years,” timber manager Mike Billman says. “It’s been tough.”

That’s why announcement Thursday of a $48.4 million allocation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was particularly welcome in the eastern Oregon community. “Awesome,” as Billman describes it.

The department, which includes the Forest Service, will provide money to two projects on the Malheur and Fremont-Winema national forests. The funding will help restore more than 422,000 acres of “dry side” forests and will retain or create more than 242 over 10 years.

Funding for 2012 is $6 million, with the remaining money allocated at varying amounts over the life of the projects. The money is distributed under the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, and is in addition to forest operating budgets approved by Congress.

About $2.5 million goes to the Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Project, which counts Malheur Lumber Co. among the partners. Another $3.5 million goes to the Lakeview Stewardship Project on the Fremont-Winema. A Deschutes National Forest project, called Deschutes Skyline, was awarded $500,000 in 2010 and $832,100 in 2012, giving Oregon three funded projects on east side national forests.

The local effort was coordinated by Sustainable Northwest, a Portland group that works with community, industry, government and conservation interests to find collaborative solutions in what it terms Oregon’s Dry Forest Investment Zone.

On the Malheur National Forest, the project will pay for thinning and logging operations that bring more wood to the John Day mill.

Billman, the manager, said the mill uses small diameter logs in its biomass operations, making wood fuel pellets and bricks. Larger logs, primarily Ponderosa pine, are made into lumber used by door and window manufacturers. The mill also produces wood shavings for animal bedding.

— Eric Mortenson

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