Idaho reaps benefit of timber sales in Libby

It was a nice change to see some good news about a Forest Service timber sale on the front page of the paper. Usually, it’s about a project being derailed by Alliance for this or the Friends of that. The USFS is to be commended for moving aggressively to harvest this timber while it is still merchantable.

But while everyone is busy slapping themselves on the back about the “home run” for the community, unfortunately I see things differently from my unique and personal perspective.

Briefly, I’ve been a small gypo logger for years and still like what I do. (At this stage of the game, the last thing I’m going to do is invest a quarter million dollars to compete with “big boys.” I owned a small sawmill (producing about 1 mbf / day) for ten years, but finally threw in the towel this past summer mainly because – guess what? – no logs.

I don’t want to whine in a Letter to the Editor, but the last few years it has been so frustrating to beat my head against the wall for logs when I see trucks streaming to Idaho all day long. I lived on what I scrounged off private jobs of my own or paid a premium price to compete in the corporate marketplace. A few loggers and contractors have gone out of their way to help me out, of which I’ll always be appreciative.

To compound the frustration, orders and demand have never been a problem for quality full dimension lumber and beams, but it takes an ample inventory of good logs to make it work. I have been haranguing the Forest Service for decades for salvage opportunities and affordable small sales, which used to be prevalent on the Kootenai. At a public meeting, the head of the KNF’s timber program pretty much stated to me in so few words, that these types of projects are a thing of the past. He went on with some bureaucratic gibberish about consolidating budgets and governmental efficiencies (which is an oxymoron if there ever was one). As I said, I have a “unique perspective,” as I was the only one in the room full of foresters, to feel the impact of this policy.

I haven’t completely given up yet but considering I can’t make boards out of air, I sold my mill last summer and bought a firewood processor, which keeps me groveling for what few logs I can find to keep going. I will always be proud of my advertising slogan or motto though; “Rebuilding Libby’s timber economy – one board foot at a time.” Oh well.


Tom Horelick, Libby Mont