Boise, the third-largest owner of commercial forests in Oregon, has agreed to sell its timberland, wood products and paper operations nationwide to Madison Dearborn Partners, a Chicago investment group, for $3.7 billion.

The change of hands is not affecting area mills or logging operations in Grant County.

"Right now what we are hearing from Boise employees is it is going to be business as usual," said Steve Courtney, Operation Forester for Malheur Lumber Company in John Day.

The timber giant, which grew decades ago from Idaho and Washington lumber companies, will become an office supply company, taking the OfficeMax name from the store chain it bought last year. Its two million acres of timberland, including about 635,000 acres in Oregon, will be purchased with sawmills and other assets by a new private company called Boise Cascade, headquartered in Idaho.

Boise employs about 2,800 people in Oregon in operations ranging from a sawmill in La Grande to a pulp and paper mill in St. Helens.

The sale of the Boise forestland and mills in one package was seen by some in Oregon as a promising sign that the operations and jobs dependent on sustainable logging will last. The transaction - likely to represent one of the states largest land sales in years - also highlights unease about the future of the state's working forests.

Some fear that pressure to generate rapid returns and pay debt tied to the purchase will force overcutting and the breakup of forests for development. Logging on private lands is not held to the same public scrutiny and debate as that on state or federal lands.

"They now have a huge debt load and they may liquidate a lot more of their timber to pay off the debt and if that happens then we will be right there trying to get as much of the wood that we can over here," said Dan Bishop, Timberlands Manager for Prairie Wood Products. "We haven't bought logs from Boise for several years, but our mill in Wallowa has purchased, just a guess, two to three million feet a year. They have been buying logs off of Boise Cascade and they also own 300,000 acres outside of La Grande. They may be more in tune with what could happen to help them, then us."

At this point, the main factor on whether it will affect Grant County is how they decide to manage the timber coming off of their own ground.

"If they (Madison Dearborn Partners) maintain the rate of harvest that they are cutting off the company ground, we won't see much change. If they decrease the rate, they may be stronger in the open market. If they decrease the harvest on the company ground they may look a little farther and wider for logs, becoming more aggressive in the open market," said Mike Billman, Operation Forester for Malheur Lumber Company in John Day. "If Boise Cascade were to decrease the amount they cut off of company ground, they would have to replace that volume from perhaps the open market. Perhaps needing to compete harder for the private logs."

Richard Rudisile, Boise's Western Oregon manager, said the transaction was seen as good news by employees because it keeps the company's operations together.

Since the change of hands is not expected until mid-November, locals mills won't likely see changes until next season, Billman said.

-Blue Moutain Eagle

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