Shutdown hinders logging in Idaho

An Idaho sawmill owner says Congress and Obama are victimizing people like him in the fight over health care.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comOctober 11, 2013 

The U.S. Forest Service sent Brad Jensen, of tiny Ovid in Bear Lake County, a cease and desist letter Tuesday, telling him he has seven days to pull his logging crew off of a timber sale south of Soda Springs. The agency has sent similar letters to loggers and mill owners across Idaho due to the partial shutdown of the government that started Oct. 1.

The timber was killed by mountain pine beetles and has to be harvested this year. Jensen said it is crucial he get the wood cut this fall.

"We have to get the logs in or we can't get through the season," said Jensen. "That will put us out of business."

Calls to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest were not returned because of the shutdown.

Jensen Lumber Co. employs 70 people and has operated for 45 years in Ovid, a town of 100 people. Jensen's family had been in the lumber business for generations before that.

Jensen is just one of many Idaho business owners who are beginning to feel the effects of the government shutdown, including contractors at the Idaho National Laboratory, Mountain Home Air Force Base and across the public lands of the state.

He contacted Lt. Gov. Brad Little about his sawmill's plight. Little has talked with Idaho's congressional delegation and also is reaching out to Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, seeking to get a bill approved that would allow the Forest Service to let the timber contracts go forward.

In a press release Thursday, Little said the halt to timber sales hurts the rural communities who depend on those jobs, and damages efforts to improve Idaho forests.

"As we have seen with the national parks, the Obama administration has clearly wanted to make this shutdown as painful as possible for American citizens," said Little, a Republican. "This action will eliminate the last sawmill in southeastern Idaho, an important tool for forest health and fire prevention."

Jensen doesn't blame local Forest Service workers because he knows they are only doing their job. He blames House Republicans and the Obama administration.

"We're being punished," he said. "We're the whipping boy."

A Republican Bear Lake County commissioner, Jensen opposes the health care law. But he doesn't support shutting down the government and threatening his business and his employees' futures to defund it.

"I've got to tell you I'm not in favor of that (the Affordable Care Act)," he said. "I don't know that it's going to work, but it's the law."

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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