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Forest Service to Give Sawmills Break from Timber Contracts


In an effort to help prevent Colorado’s three remaining sawmills from shutting down, the US Forest Service is offering to renegotiate timber sale contracts that were inked prior to the recession and the downturn in the housing market. 

On a case by case basis, the Forest Service says sawmills in its Rocky Mountain Region will have the option to cancel timber sale contracts made before a relief provision was included in the 2008 Farm Bill.  Many of these contracts inked prior to then are considered to be no longer commercially viable, and three mills in Delta, Montrose and Saguache are at risk of defaulting on the deals as a result. 

In a conference call, Acting Regional Forester Jerome Thomas said the mills employ hundreds of people in rural Colorado where jobs are often scarce.

"We want them to continue to do so, ensuring a viable forest product industry is in the interest of the Forest Service and the public," Thomas said.

Thomas said the decision will help struggling mills in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Forest officials also worry that if the sawmills close, there would be no infrastructure to treat the millions of acres of dead and dying trees as a result of the bark beetle outbreak.

Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo), who had pressed the Forest Service for quick action, praised this week’s decision. 

"By allowing the 'mutual cancelation' of these contracts, the US Forest Service is helping the local economy and promoting a healthy forest management industry," Udall said in a statement.  

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.
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