Letters From the West

Shutdown threatens to force sawmill in southeast Idaho out of business

Sawmill owner Brad Jensen sees himself as a pawn in the Capitol Hill chess game over Obamacare.

The U.S. Forest Service sent Jensen, of tiny Ovid in Bear Lake County, a cease and desist letter Tuesday, telling him he has seven days to pull his logging crew off of a timber sale south of Soda Springs. The agency has sent similar letters to loggers and mill owners across Idaho due to the shutdown of the government Oct. 1.

The timber was killed by mountain pine beetle and has to be harvested this year. Jensen said it is crucial he get the wood cut this fall.

“We have to get the logs in or we can’t get through the season,” said Jensen. “That will put us out of business.”

Jensen Lumber Co. employs 70 people and has operated in Ovid, a town of 100 people for 45 years. Jensen’s family has been in the lumber business for several generations before that.

Jensen wonders why the major employers in the region — the phosphate mines — are still operating while he is being told he must leave the forest since they have leases on forest land. He wonders why the Forest Service couldn’t allow state foresters to do the once- or twice-a-month inspections that are the pretense why he is being ordered to leave.

But he doesn’t blame the local Forest Service people because he knows they are only doing their job. He blames Congress and the Obama Administration.

“We’re being punished,” he said. “We’re the whipping boy.”

Jensen, a Republican Bear Lake County commissioner, opposes Obamacare. But he doesn’t support shutting down the government and threatening his business and his employees’ futures to defund it.

“I’ve got to tell you I’m not in favor of that (the Affordable Care Act). I don’t know that it’s going to work but it’s the law.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West