County steps up support for logger in battle with Forest Service
The largest employer in Greenville said it might be too late to save his logging business and the 30-plus jobs that go with it.
But Plumas County supervisors said they are going to keep doing “everything in our power” to help.
Supervisors Robert Meacher and Jon Kennedy met with Regional U.S. Forest Service Deputy Dan Jiron Thursday, Dec. 22, to plead the case of Pew Forest Products.
The supervisors also sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in Washington, D.C.
Randy Pew said his company has been unsuccessfully battling the Forest Service over a botched 2009 timber fire sale.
He said the losses he sustained trying to salvage logs left behind from the 2007 Moonlight Fire are “catastrophic.” Pew said he has about $1 million in unpaid bills. He said that without immediate financial help, his company would be out of business.
“We are at the end of our rope,” Pew told the supervisors during their meeting Tuesday, Dec. 20. “I don’t know what else to do. You’re (supervisors) our local people that I can go to. I’ve gone to the local Forest Service. I can’t deal with the (Forest Service’s) contracting officer.”
Meacher and Kennedy joined Pew for his Thursday meeting with Jiron at the Forest Service regional headquarters in Vallejo. The meeting didn’t produce the promise of a settlement from the Forest Service. But Kennedy said he felt Jiron understood the urgency of getting the matter settled.
“The Forest Service knows they are not going to be able to sit on this,” Kennedy said. “We are not going to let them do that.”
The Forest Service has rejected Pew’s claim that it made an error when it estimated the volume of usable timber available on land that Pew Forest Products bid on.
Pew said the volume of salvageable timber was up to 90 percent less than the Forest Service “cruise” said there was. A “cruise” is an estimate of the harvestable timber.
The Forest Service contract allows for a 20 percent margin of error on its cruises. The contract also states that it is ultimately the logger’s responsibility to cruise the land before making a bid.
However, Pew said the week he was given by the Forest Service wasn’t enough time to conduct a thorough cruise on the 6,000-acre burn site. So he relied on the Forest Service estimates.
He said his company has done more than 100 salvage operations for the Forest Service in the past 30 years. And the volume of timber was almost always more than the Forest Service’s estimates.
Pew said the Forest Service cruise on the Moonlight Fire acreage (called the Cairn sale) was up to 90 percent off in some areas.
David Schramel, owner of Indian Valley Lumber Company, said most of the logs his company received from Pew’s Moonlight salvage weren’t even usable.
“I would have sent 75 percent of them back to the woods. They are cull. They are firewood,” Schramel said. “I know that’s all (Pew) had to ship. I’m sure they didn’t give me the worst of the batch. I’m pretty sure I had logs that were reflective of what the quality of the logs out there were. And it’s lousy. They have been out there too long.”
Shaun Lemnah, who has been falling trees for more than 30 years, said the quality of the logs he felled during the helicopter portion of the operation was bad — especially the valuable cedar.
“The cedar was not there,” Lemnah said. “What was there, I don’t have a percentage, but I would say at least 70 percent of it that I fell … was cull.”
Impact on Indian Valley
Pew said he feels the weight of an entire community on his shoulders.
“We trustingly took that (Forest Service cruise) summary and used it,” Pew said. “And we got ourselves in this position because we trusted it. And the people around us that are hurting are the people that trusted us.”
Pew, the Board of Supervisors and the local Forest Service leaders said they understand the urgency of solving the problem. They know Greenville’s struggling economy is in jeopardy.
The financial impact of 30 lost jobs could lead to other local businesses closing — possibly even the school.
“We truly understand the situation. And the urgency and how it affects not just Indian Valley, but Plumas County as a whole,” said Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lori Simpson. “We take it very seriously. We are going to do everything we can in our power.”
A Nov. 22 letter from the supervisors to Sen. Dianne Feinstein failed to get a direct response as of last week.
Show of support
More than 50 Greenville residents attended the Board of Supervisors meeting last week.
Many of them were forced to stand in the hall because the room was packed. Several residents, including local business owners, addressed the board in support of Pew.
“It’s horrific what is happening to Randy,” a Greenville resident said. “He is one of the most responsible and largest loggers in our county.
“You as a board understand that if we are ever going to get the timber operations going again, to get money for schools and roads, it takes people like this. … So fight as hard as you can. The whole county is going to benefit. It isn’t just Greenville.”
Local foresters sympathetic
Plumas National Forest Supervisor Earl Ford and Deputy Supervisor Laurence Crabtree each voiced support for Pew during the meeting.
But they admitted their influence over the Forest Service contracting officer, who denied Pew’s appeal, is limited.
“Our contracting officers are certified by a board. We can’t go out and tell them that ‘your contract information is wrong,’” Ford said. “There is a board of appeals that that stuff has to rightly go through.”
Ford said he put Crabtree in charge of “taking another look” at the situation. Crabtree said he called in a Forest Service “measurement specialist” from Oregon to conduct a review of the Cairn cruise.
“We just felt like a fresh look from a fresh perspective would be appropriate,” Crabtree said. “And I thought we would have that review today (Tuesday, Dec. 20). We haven’t got it today. When we get it, the first person I’m going to call is Randy.”
The Forest Service review had not reached the Quincy office as of Friday, Dec. 23.
Crabtree said the report was in the hands of the regional forester, Randy Moore.
Pew thanked the Forest Service for getting another opinion. But he said he doubts it would change anything.
“This report is wonderful. And Laurence, I commend you and Earl for doing it,” Pew said. “The problem is, if the report comes back and says ‘(The Forest Service) did everything exactly like our rulebook told us to,’ we are still millions of dollars short of what I was led to believe was there.”
No timber left behind
Pew said he was upset by a Forest Service statement in August that said his company left a “significant volume” of merchantable timber behind.
“Every acre that we logged on was walked and looked at by a Forest Service representative. There were more of them out there than I think there were loggers. And when they got done, they approved every acre,” Pew said. “So when they say that (timber was left behind), I think they are really reaching. And if they are right, and we did leave merchantable wood behind, we’re really not very smart. … Because that’s how we make our living.”
Letter to Washington
The supervisors’ three-page Dec. 21 letter to Forest Service Chief Tidwell was critical of his agency and outlined the sense of urgency.
“Pew Forest Products is on the brink of losing their business,” the letter states. “The Forest Service has taken little ownership and simply states that it is buyer beware and the Government has no responsibility.”
The letter also tells Tidwell, “… the possible loss of Pew Forest Products can be attributed to a rigid Timber Sale contract and the inflexibility of the Forest Service to work with their partners to assure their projects are implemented.”
A copy of the letter was also sent to Region 5 Forester Randy Moore; Plumas National Forest Supervisor Earl Ford; Lassen National Forest Supervisor Jerry Bird; Sen. Dianne Feinstein; Congressman Wally Herger and Congressman Tom McClintock.