Vanishing Sawmills

Spring 2009


As is so true in today’s world, what once was is no more. At one time the Inland Northwest was blessed with a wide diversity of sawmills and keen competition for landowner logs. When IFM was created 25 years ago, 25 major sawmills dotted the landscape in Idaho’s five northern counties; today there are 12. Furthermore, mill ownership has been consolidated from a total of 15 owners in 1984 to just seven today. And only three of the seven typically buy and process mixed species such as Douglas-fir, larch, grand fir and western hemlock.

Consequently, landowners have less opportunity to reap the rewards of competition, and it is more likely that they’ll have to haul their logs further. Unfortunately, neither development puts more money in a forest owner’s pocket.

In addition to dwindling competition, we have witnessed many other trends during the last 25 years; i.e., better tree utilization, less value for large logs, increased log sorting, and improved sawmill efficiency.

At one time, logs with less than a 12 inch top were considered worthless. Eventually the standard worked its way down to a 6 inch small-end diameter. Now sawlogs are marketable down to 4.5 inches and pulp specifications go to 2.5 inches. Big logs were once a premium product, but now logs with more than a 27 inch butt are oftentimes worth half the value of smaller logs.

Mill specialization is another development and is reflected in the prices paid by each mill for various species and log sizes. This change has created the need for more effective log marketing and sorting to assure that logs are sent to the mill that pays top dollar.
Although many of the changes within our local wood products industry are not what forest owners would wish for, we do have reason to be thankful. In spite of the current challenging economic climate, the Inland Northwest has a viable forest products industry. Large expanses of Oregon and Montana have lost all their mills, making transportation from these areas to distant mills cost prohibitive. Also, because the surviving mills in our area are very efficient and productive, they have improved their ability to compete in a global marketplace and to provide long-term markets for landowners.

Twenty-five years of changes – sawmills gone; really small logs are a hot item; nobody wants big logs; lightening-fast, laser-guided sawmills – who would have ever guessed? What can we expect next? Only time will tell.

millhistory

Map – Table

The map above and the table below identify North Idaho sawmills that existed in 1984 and those that are still working today. For reasons of limited space, we only address the five northern counties in Idaho; however, the remainder of our operating area (eastern Washington and western Montana) has experienced the same trend. Also, we did not include pulp, chipwood, special-product and smaller, family sawmill operations.

Major Sawmills

Operating in 1984;
now closed

Currently
 operating

Idaho Forest Group

 

 

(formerly Riley Cr.) – Moyie Springs

 

X

Crown Pacific – Bonners Ferry

X

 

Welco – Naples

 

X

Ceda-Pine Veneer – Samuels

 

X

Crown Pacific – Colburn

X

 

Arrow Tie – Sandpoint

X

 

Idaho Forest Group – Laclede

 

X

Louisiana-Pacific – Priest River

X

 

Stimson – Priest River

 

X

JD Lumber – Priest River

X

 

Crown Pacific – Albeni Falls

X

 

Idaho Forest Group – Chilco

 

X

Stimson (Atlas) – Coeur d’Alene

X

 

Stimson (DeArmond) – Coeur d’Alene

X

 

Potlatch (Rutledge) – Coeur d’Alene

X

 

WI Forest Products – Coeur d’Alene

X

 

Crown Pacific (Huetter) – Coeur d’Alene

X

 

Louisiana-Pacific – Post Falls

X

 

Idaho Veneer – Post Falls

 

X

Whiteman – Kingston

 

X

Malloy – Kingston

 

X

Stimson– Plummer

 

X

Edwards – St. Maries

X

 

Stimson (Regulus) – St. Maries

 

X

Potlatch – St. Maries

 

X

Most of the operating mills are working reduced shifts or are temporarily shut down due to market conditions. Whiteman is presently rebuilding following a fire in January. Furthermore, many of the operating mills have changed owners over the years, some of them multiple times.

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