Community leaders and elected officials were disheartened by news of the impending sawmill shutdown in John Day.

Grant County Judge Mark Webb noted the way Malheur Lumber Co. and its parent company, Ochoco Lumber, had tried to adapt and adjust to challenging times and keep the mill going.

Webb is frustrated that the bureaucracy and leadership seem to be working in an older paradigm, one that no longer addresses the needs of the forests or rural communities.

Announcing the shutdown plan, Ochoco president Bruce Daucsavage also was critical of the “lack of urgency” in Washington, D.C., other than that shown by U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

“With the exception of Sen. Wyden and Congressman Walden, there has been little effort made in solving the issues that plague our forests and rural communities,” Daucsavage said.

Wyden said the announcement “sends a clear message that we have a lot of work to do” to ensure reasonable harvest levels to maintain the mills.

“If we are ever going to restore the health of the overstocked forests, we need the infrastructure and that means successful mills and skilled workers,” he said.

Wyden offered a hopeful note that the continued operation of the biomass facility would preserve some infrastructure “for the day when we can assure access to timber.”

Walden pledged to continue working for legislation to provide active forest management – to allow federal land managers to do their jobs in the forests, and to ensure natural resources are available to create local jobs and healthy forests.

“Malheur Lumber, its employees, and the community of John Day have become another victim of the broken federal forest policy dogged by bureaucracy and lawsuits,” he said. “This unfortunate closure is a stark example of the urgency faced by our federally forested communities.”

“We must make a change in forest policy or risk losing all timber infrastructure and the economic foundations of many rural communities.”

Mark Witty, Grant School District No. 3 superintendent, worries about the “cascading effects” of the closure on the community, its businesses, and the schools.

“At District 3, we’re looking to see how it will impact us,” he said. “Obviously, we have some families affected by this. My heart goes out to those folks who are in the position of losing a job.”

The ripple effect for the schools comes when out-of-work residents with school-age children must leave the area for jobs elsewhere.

The district has already downsized its campuses and some programs in the face of declining enrollment and state funding.

“We were looking toward a plateau in that, but it’s likely this could change the plateau,” Witty said.

He said the impact could be devastating for the community, but he sees a glimmer of hope in the continued operation of the Malheur biomass plant.

“As a community we’ve got to maintain hope and keep looking for opportunities,” Witty said. “Because we really are done, if we stop trying.”

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