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Montana Timber Industry Hits Log Jam

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MISSOULA -

Montana's timber industry sees more green than it has in a while, but it's hitting a log jam.

Still, Montana vendors have sold more wood products in the first half of 2014 than at this same point in any year since 2009.

According to the director of forest research at the University of Montana, Todd Morgan, wages, employment, and sales are all up this year. Since lumber and new homes go hand-in-hand, this is also a sign that the housing market is getting back on its feet.

The biggest thing holding the industry back is not having enough supply. In 2013, 370 million board feet of timber were harvested. That's half of what it was ten years ago.

"There is not enough timber going around currently. There's very little coming off federal land," said Dan Daly, the fiber manager at Roseburg Forest Products.

Daly has been in the timber business for 35 years. What they make at Roseburg, you might find in ready-made furniture, shelves, flooring, and a ton of other stuff. Roseburg employs 112 people and if the sawmills they depend on could get more wood through the doors, it would be a boon for them as well.

"It would help us grow. It would give us more confidence in the state of the sawmill industry," said Daly.

In Montana, the majority of timber land is publicly owned land so to get more supply it'll have to go through the government.

"Here in Montana we stare at our hillsides and we see dead standing timber there in our federal forest and an inability to harvest it," said Representative Steve Daines.

Daines, who toured the facility on Monday, recently helped pass the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act through the House. If it makes it all the way through Congress, the act would make it easier for the Forest Service to sell off timber on federal land.

Congressman John Walsh has introduced a bill like Daines'. It's the the Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative, but Walsh hasn't had any luck getting Congress to pass even one of almost two dozen bills he's brought forward.

Now, more than 7,000 people work in the timber industry in the treasure state, and Montana wood product sales reached $613 million in 2013.

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