By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
As Sierra Pacific Industries closes its Chinese Camp sawmill for the next three weeks, views vary as to why temporary layoffs of 37 workers must happen.
SPI announced yesterday that about a third of its Chinese Camp employees will be out of work for 21 days, beginning today. Those workers will keep health benefits and resume the same job when they return, but the fact that they're not working for even a short time worries some in the logging industry.
Most blame the Forest Service.
"We've seen a significant and steady decrease in the amount of available federal timber, due to large reductions in the normal green sale program, litigation of salvage harvesting operations and bureaucratic delays in approval of harvest plans," said Ed Bond, SPI spokesman. Bond cited a 90 percent drop in saw-log volume offered for sale from Stanislaus National Forest since the mid-1980s.
But Dave Reider, spokesman for the Forest Service regional office in Vallejo, said the decline was in response to public comment against clear-cuts on national forest land. As a result, clear-cutting is no longer an allowed wood-harvesting method on that land.
"There's a pretty clear public sentiment along those lines," Reider said.
However, Reider said, loggers this summer should take many small logs off the forest as the Forest Service clears young trees and underbrush in order to prevent wildfires.
Many of those trees could go to the Chinese Camp mill, which is designed especially for smaller logs.
"We have a big job in front of us in terms of fuel reduction," Reider said.
But even some in the conservation community think more wood needs to come out of the forest.
"There's one area that our center's in agreement with SPI," said John Buckley, director of Twain Harte's Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center. "We're frustrated and disappointed that the Forest Service, for a variety of reasons, hasn't been able to produce larger amounts of small-tree timber that is now possible under the Framework policies."