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County asks for Feinstein’s help in Forest Service dispute

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer
12/14/2011

The county has come to the aid of a Greenville logger in his battle against the Forest Service.

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein asking her to intervene in a dispute over a 2009 timber sale.

Pew Forest Products owner Randy Pew said his company is on the verge of bankruptcy after a job he bid on failed to produce the amount of timber the Forest Service said it would.

The Forest Service said it was ultimately Pew’s responsibility to estimate the amount of usable timber before he bid on the job.

Supervisor Robert Meacher and Chairwoman Lori Simpson said they drafted the Nov. 22 letter with the hope that Feinstein would assign a staff member to assist Plumas County. “We would be forever grateful,” the latter stated.

“It became clear that we had to go to a higher authority to get some support on this issue,” Meacher said.

The dispute between Pew and the Plumas National Forest is over a salvage logging operation that Pew’s company worked on in the wake of the 2007 Moonlight Fire.

Pew Forest Products won the right to log the burned timber. Pew said he based his bid on a “cruise” by the Forest Service. A “cruise” is an estimate of the amount of usable timber on the land.

He said his company had successfully completed five such “fuels reduction projects” on Forest Service land over the previous eight years.

Pew said his crews usually harvested more timber than was estimated to be there. So he said he was confident in his bid until he began working on the land and realized there was much less timber than the Forest Service estimate indicated.

He said it fell way below the standard 20 percent margin of error. Pew said the shortfall he sustained amounted to nearly $800,000.

He asked the Forest Service to split the amount of the shortfall with him, which would be about $376,000.

“I just want enough to pay the people I owe money to,” Pew said in November. “I did not ask for the whole amount of the shortfall.”

Pew, whose company is the biggest employer in Indian Valley, said that without the $376,000, he will be out of business. That would eliminate 30 jobs in the already depressed local economy.

Meacher said the ripple effect of $2 million in lost wages in the small community could lead to school closure.

In its letter to Feinstein, the Board of Supervisors said there was “an internal mistake made by the Plumas National Forest.”

“What it explicitly is, is once a forest burns and you put it up for a salvage sale, the product starts depreciating from the day the fire’s out. There is a biological clock that runs on the depreciation,” Meacher said. “The documents that Randy Pew used to cruise the sale were pre-depreciation. So when they actually got out into the forest (two years after the fire), a lot of it wasn’t there.”

Deputy Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree said the situation is “distressing for all of us.” But he added the Forest Service factored the depreciation into its cruise.

“We are well aware that fire-killed trees deteriorate over time and did apply science-based deterioration guides to the cruise estimates,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree said the Forest Service understands the severe economic impact on Pew and the community. He said the Forest Service isn’t taking that lightly.

In November the Forest Service brought in a specialist to help review the situation.

“We did invite an experienced Forest Service measurement specialist from Oregon to work with me and other folks from this forest to take another look at all aspects of this situation,” Crabtree said. “We want to be able to explain the issue being raised by the Board of Supervisors and it is being taken very seriously by us.

“While this is a complicated situation, the board, Randy Pew and the public should expect us to conduct a thorough, diligent and objective review,” Crabtree said. “We are well into this work. And I expect to have preliminary findings within the next two weeks.”

After studying the logged area in August, Forest Service representative Joe Smailes said Pew left a “significant volume” of merchantable timber behind.

Pew insisted that his crews harvested everything that had been approved by the Forest Service.

 


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