Last sawmill on Mendocino Coast to close

For the Capital Press


FORT BRAGG, Calif. — In California’s second-ranking timber county, the Mendocino Coast’s last sawmill will close for lack of affordable logs.

Mendocino Forest Products announced June 2 that will permanently close its more than 50-year-old Fort Bragg sawmill Aug. 1, displacing 59 mill workers. Some employees will fill openings at the company’s other locations.

The Mendocino Coast historically thrived on the timber industry.

The past three years have been challenging for business, especially for lumber mills in Northern California, said Mendocino Forest Products President Richard Higgenbottom.

“The biggest challenge for mills has been to secure a dependable supply of local logs at a reasonable price,” said Higgenbottom from his office in Calpella, Calif. “Some mills in this county even import logs from Washington and British Columbia, but this is not a sustainable solution for our Fort Bragg operation.”

With one eight-hour shift of mill workers, the Fort Bragg mill annually produces 40 million board feet of primarily Douglas fir lumber for housing studs, most of which is purchased by Home Depot. A board foot is a piece of wood 12 inches square and one inch thick. It takes about 15,000 board feet of lumber to frame a 2,000-square-foot, single-family home. The mill ran two shifts daily about two years ago.

“We really hate this because the employees did everything they could do to keep the mill open,” said Higgenbottom.


After Humboldt County, Mendocino was the second largest producer of timber in the state in 2002 with 118 million board feet of timber valued at $52 million, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

In 1998 Mendocino Forest Products, which also has a mill in Ukiah producing 60 million board feet annually, was formed after San Francisco-based Sansome Partners purchased the Fort Bragg mill from Louisiana-Pacific Corporation.

Mendocino Redwood Co., which manages 232,000 acres of timberland in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, is the parent company controlled by Sansome Partners. Its primary investor is the Fisher family of San Francisco, which started The Gap clothing stores.

Mendocino Forest Products distributes redwood and other wood products from its Calpella distribution center to wholesale and retail markets in the Western United States. It will provide employees with a severance package and help in finding employment.


The entire community will be hurt by the closure, said Fort Bragg Mayor Jere Melo, who has been a forester for 37 years.

“What is happening is local merchants have already commented their take is down,” said Melo. “We will see families move out of town.”

Another sawmill owned by Georgia-Pacific closed about six months ago in the coastal community. Between the two closures about 200 jobs that pay well with benefits will be lost, said Melo.

The area could end up with timberland that is fragmented with home developments because of the expense of increased timber regulations and an unstable market, which is “exactly what the environmentalists say they don’t want,” Melo said.

There will be a huge increase of merchantable timber in Mendocino County over the next 60 years because of growth, Melo said.

“The question is whether there’s any manufacturing so that timber can be marketed. Because without the sawmills, the timber has no value.”


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