Tester’s work saved St. Regis timber mill

Hungry Horse News

by Ken Verley

Montana’s timber industry has fallen on tough times recently. But our state’s mill workers know that Sen. Jon Tester will always fight for them. In fact, Sen. Tester’s hard work is a big reason why the Tricon Mill remains in business today.

Tricon Timber employs 200 Montanans in Mineral County. We are the county’s largest private employer and one of the largest sawmills left operating in our state. Amid challenging times, the mill and Mineral County residents work hard to move truckloads of logs every day through our sawmill in St. Regis to customers across our nation and overseas.

If it wasn’t for the efforts of Sen. Tester, however, we’d be facing some tough choices, and the jobs of hard-working Montanans would be on the line.

When the housing market collapsed a few years ago, the timber industry felt its impact head-on. Folks weren’t building as many homes, and the price of wood plummeted. Taken together with a decreased – and therefore more expensive – timber supply, mills around the Big Sky State struggled or closed. Although the economy is slowly turning around, these tough times continue to affect our industry and western Montana’s economy.

Before the recession, Tricon contracted with the Forest Service to harvest four sites that required logs to be taken out by helicopter. It costs $560 per thousand board-feet to deliver these logs to the sawmill. However, after the economic recession, these logs return only $240 per thousand board-feet. With board prices staying flat, and our contract coming due, we faced a catastrophic loss of $7 million.

Months of negotiations with the Forest Service yielded nothing. We turned to Sen. Tester, and he went to work.

Jon went straight to the Forest Service in Washington, D.C., and convinced the agency to issue a decision that lets logging companies pay a fair buyout fee for contracts when economic conditions make those contracts impossible to fulfill. He even drafted legislation in case the Forest Service could not find a fix.

Jon’s work paid off. Last fall, we reached an agreement with the Forest Service to forgo further helicopter logging in Panhandle National Forest. And just before the New Year, we reached a fair buyout agreement to forgo further logging in Lolo National Forest, allowing us to move forward with better business opportunities.

Sen. Tester saved the 200-plus jobs at Tricon. And he saved the jobs of 600 other Montanans who build roads and haul logs to supply the mill. He stood up for Mineral County and Montana’s timber industry by knocking some common sense into Forest Service officials back in Washington.

Thanks to Jon, the Forest Service’s policy will help Tricon and several other mills stay in business. Western Montana has a lot of forest to manage, and we’re proud that we can restore our forests and put people to work. We look forward to continuing to bring jobs and economic benefits across the region.

The timber industry and small businesses power Mineral County and western Montana. That’s why Jon stepped forward, and why he recently visited our mill to make sure we had what we needed to move forward.

Tricon and Mineral County are grateful to have a hard-working champion like Jon Tester making responsible decisions and getting things done for the people of Montana.

Ken Verley is the owner of Tricon Timber, in St. Regis, the largest family-owned mill in the state of Montana.