A timber town rallies for roads

  • BLOCKADE: Protest in Cascade, Idaho

    Dewey Haeder photo

CASCADE, Idaho - The open-air protest was hastily organized, but Idaho Republican Rep. Helen Chenoweth found time to travel to this timber town of 900. "You're the best environmentalists in the world," she told 500 cheering people who had gathered to close the road through town with logging trucks and send a message to the world.

The message was their anger and fear that the Forest Service's 18-month road-building moratorium would cripple the local timber mill and the local economy (HCN, 4/27/98). One protester, Frank Byers, showed up packing loaded pistols and holding a sign reading, "You draw your bills, we'll draw our guns."

Chenoweth told the crowd she thought the moratorium was no substitute for locals making policy. "I will never quit fighting for your right to manage your public lands," she said. She also praised the local Boise Cascade mill, which employs approximately 70 people, for being "the most environmentally sensitive mill in the world."

Most businesses in this town 80 miles north of Boise closed for the timber rally May 18, though some owners said they did so reluctantly and under pressure from fellow business people who canvassed the town. The pressure was intense, they said, and none were willing to be quoted by name. One owner, who refused to close his doors, said, "While I probably won't have rocks thrown through my window, I'll feel it socially. I already do."

Ron Lundquist, president of the Cascade Chamber of Commerce, which organized the blockade, said he thought no one had reason to fear retaliation. "I would hope not," he said.

For most people, the problem was that their jobs prevented their giving the rally their complete support. Postmaster Dan Tanner, for instance, said he'd have "gladly joined in," and high school principal Bill Leaf, who allowed students to attend the event voluntarily, had talked of closing down the school. County employees, while unpaid, were also allowed to participate, and some drivers of county gravel trucks helped block the road.

Although originally billed as an 18-minute blockade - one minute for each month of the road ban - it shut down Highway 55 for more than three hours.

Ken Postma, Boise Cascade's logging manager, warned that "this moratorium is going to hit Idaho harder than any other state." A timber-quota shortfall in Northwest logs, he implied, would have to be made up by Idaho.

Timber forester Gerald Weigand of the nearby Nez Perce National Forest disagreed. No area has to "make up for" reduced harvests elsewhere. "The moratorium doesn't forbid logging; it only forbids road building," he said.

"All of the volume can still be removed by helicopters," he added, "but nobody's talking about that." Helicopter yarding costs $150 to $200 more per thousand board-feet than conventional dozer and cable systems, Weigand said.

"That might price timber out of bid range" for some mills, said Steve Patterson, timber management assistant on the local Cascade Ranger District. Nationally, he pointed out, only 2 to 7 percent of the volume planned for fiscal years 1998 and 1999 may be affected by the road-building moratorium.

To Postma, the real impact of the road-building ban is yet to come. "The moratorium doesn't affect just those two years' sales," he said. "It affects future sales coming down the pipeline as well, and the moratorium will last longer than just 18 months."

Dewey Haeder is a freelance writer in Grangeville, Idaho, who worked for 20 years as a silviculturist on the Nez Perce National Forest.

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