photo by Peter Christian

In what was described as an episode of the TV show 'Survivor', Montana Senator Steve Daines met with representatives from wood products, wilderness and multiple-use groups at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center in Missoula.

In a round table discussion Friday morning, Daines heard from owners of lumber mills in Seeley Lake, Darby and St. Regis who said there has been an 82 percent decline in Montana timber harvests on U.S. Forest Service lands, and that 27 wood and paper mills have closed in Montana since 1990.

Others who spoke included a representative from a snowmobiling group, and Tom France with the National Wildlife Federation.

Daines told the group that he remembers when he was a high school student that Libby and Columbia Falls were both prosperous timber towns with teams large enough to compete in Double A sports.

"Somebody made the comment that they used to called the Libby Loggers, but now they could change the mascot to the Libby Lawyers, because the logging industry is gone," Daines said. "I was at a recent meeting with timber mills. Tri-Con, Pyramid, Stoltz were there, and running around that room, I asked how many board feet could you produce? We tallied it up and it was literally a hundred million board feet that they could start producing tomorrow if we gave them more logs."

Daines also said he and fellow Montana Senator Jon Tester will look closely at excessive litigation over timber sales, as well as working to reform NEPA regulations to begin opening up more U.S. Forest Service lands to responsible timber harvesting.

One of the lumber mill operators said he is hoping that his sons and grandchildren would be able to continue the business he started in the 1960's, but if there is no timber to process, they will have to close their doors.

At last count, there are only nine timber mills left in the State of Montana.

Montana Senator Steve Daines