It is spring break-up in the Montana mountains, where wet, muddy conditions prevent loggers and haulers from working for the next few weeks.

However, Sun Mountain Lumber, in Deer Lodge, has an adequate supply of timber in its yard to keep the sawmill running during this period.

Sherm Anderson, Sun Mountain owner and CEO, said recently that the biggest challenge continues to be the lack of available timber. Most of last summer and fall, Sun Mountain logging crews and haulers harvested a state timber sale in southern Idaho and trucked the logs to the local mill.

The market for studs — boards used to frame walls in residential houses — picked up a little bit during 2012, making it a decent year, Anderson said, but when lumber prices go up, so does the cost of logs. Log costs represent 70 percent of the total production cost of lumber.

Anderson blames a part of the problem on the U.S. Forest Service that owns 70 percent of the timber in Montana on 17,048,125 acres, but supplies only 5 percent of the harvest. Meanwhile, private landowners, Montana State Lands, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management provide 95 percent of the timber needed to supply the remaining 11 large mills in the state, he said.

From The Montana Standard: