Last year the Gash Creek fire burned nearly 8,000 acres in the Bitterroot National Forest between July and August, and cost nearly $8.1 million to fight.
When the flames were finally out, officials from the U.S. Forest Service hit the ground to assess the damage and figure out what to do after fire season had done its damage.
The came up with a fire salvage sale to recoup losses, says Ed Hayes, a Forest Service prep technician. That’s where the Forest Service surveys a burned area for sellable timber, and then, after a lengthy process, allows a logging company to come in and remove sections of burnt forest that are usable for lumber. Hayes says the entire process, which involves an environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, and a time for public comment, takes the Forest Service about a year on average.
That’s a problem, says Joe Larson, a log buyer for Stimson Lumber Company.
According to Larson, in a year’s time the timber can undergo significant deterioration, including cracking and splitting, which renders the wood useless for boards and two-by-fours. After surveying the Gash Fire Salvage Sale, he says that’s the case for this patch of Bitterroot National Forest land, which is why Stimson passed on the deal.
“If you buy it, you’re going to take a hit on it,” Larson says.
The Gash Fire Salvage Sale has a minimum acceptable bid advertised at $1,821.60 for 5,520 tons of timber, because of the wood’s low quality, Hayes says.
The Forest Service set the minimum bid low to encourage buyers to compete and push the price up, he says, but the bids haven’t been coming.
Hayes is hoping a bidding war for the timber heats up before the sale ends on Sept. 11, because between the studies, surveys and advertising for the sale, he says, the process has already cost the Forest Service more than the minimum bid would yield.