A week after Sierra Pacific Industries blamed the Forest Service for not allowing enough logging to stock SPI's Chinese Camp mill, the company passed on the chance to buy 6 million board feet of timber on Stanislaus National Forest land.

SPI California's largest private landowner announced last week that 37 Chinese Camp workers would be laid off for 21 days.

"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," SPI spokesman Ed Bond had said.

But Monday, when Stanislaus National Forest officials were to open bids for the Brown Darby Fire Salvage Sale, none came.

The sale, which opened April 1 for bidding, was for trees burned in the Darby Fire of September 2001. The wood totaling more than 6 million board feet sits south of Arnold on the Tuolumne-Calaveras county line. (Builders use about 15,000 board feet on the average house.)

Loggers harshly criticized the Forest Service for taking a year and a half to put the trees up for bid. After those jabs and taking blame for the Chinese Camp mill's temporary shut down, many in the Forest Service responded in kind when no timber companies bid on the Darby sale.

While logging companies elsewhere in the state could have bid on the project, Forest Service officials said SPI with mills in Standard and Chinese Camp would have been the logical buyer.

"There's a lot of tough questions when you see logs coming from Shiloh, Ariz., on a train and this is basically right in their backyard," said Dan Young, resource management program area leader for the Stanislaus forest. His comment was in reference to fire-damaged logs arriving at SPI's Standard mill.

Others wondered if their efforts to help the sale were wasted.

"There were extreme conservation groups from outside the area that wanted to appeal it because it involves the cutting of large, dead trees," said John Buckley, director of Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center. "Myself and other members of the conservation community literally begged those groups not to sue."