Federal forest contracts stall halting business for restoration projects

WHITE CITY, Ore.– Contracts for work on federal lands are currently unavailable due to the shutdown. That means no business for contractors who do important work such as prescribed burns and forest restoration.

Grayback Forestry Inc. and Lomakatsi Restoration Project say federal work has stalled at this point and without federal lands open, everyone is having to wait and hope for their sake the shutdown is resolved soon.

“Right now, normally, we’d be cranking everything up and you’d see all these trucks out there,” said Michael Wheelock, president of Grayback.

With federal lands closed due to the shutdown, business is taking a dive for some forest restoration contractors. Wheelock says work is now piling up.

“We’ve got a lot of work that’s 80 percent complete and payments are going to be held up,” he said. “So if this is long term it could affect both the company and the employees.”

Companies like Grayback and Lomakatsi provide services such as prescribed burns and forest thinning during the winter months. According to Shane Jimerfield of Lomakatsi, he’s been seeing some contractors hitting tough times.

“Many of the other organizations or businesses that we work with are laying people off,” he said. “This is harming people’s livelihoods, their families.”

But Lomakatsi says they’re doing fine at the moment and so is Grayback, even though the business relies heavily on federal contracts – some 80 percent.

“You know, we’re going to adapt and work some of the private stuff and if it opens up soon we’ll prioritize the area,” said Wheelock.

Wheelock says what’s most concerning is the several thousand acres that need to be dealt with since long fire seasons have delayed work for the past couple of years.

“We were hoping to get caught up this fall and winter and with the shutdown, if it continues, it will have a drastic impact on our workload and contractual obligations,” he said.

But Wheelock admits that if this shutdown lasts into March there might be trouble.

According to Wheelock, even though forest restoration work isn’t being done on federal lands he doesn’t believe the lack of work will cause more disastrous wildfires this summer. Lomakatsi says with this work stalled, steps that would normally strengthen fire prevention on forest lands are now weaker because of the lack of restoration.

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