Montana Man Voice for Forest Products Industry

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Jim Hurst Is Driven by Concern for Others In Making Strong Defense of Timber Industry and Rural Life

EUREKA, Montana — Picture a 55-year-old man who describes himself as having a good sense of humor and whose hobbies include fishing and spending time alone managing beautiful timberland. First impressions might bring to mind the image of a loner, an easy-going man not easily concerned with the business of others.

But Jim Hurst, co-owner of Owens and Hurst Lumber Company, is deeply concerned about others — especially when he was forced by the federal government to lay off 40 employees for no sensible reason.

People who are far removed from forest resources enjoy a quality of life that would not be possible without the hard work of the people employed in the forest products industry, Jim noted. And it angers him knowing that while others enjoy an abundant quality of life, their elected leaders try to put the providers of forest products out of business.

“I am tired of seeing honest, hard working people getting trampled by rules, regulations and policies of the federal government,” said Jim. More timber dies in national forests than is harvested, he noted.

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More often than not, Jim turns his anger and concern into positive action, and his efforts have been recognized by a major trade group. The Forest Resources Association (FRA), formerly the American Pulpwood Association, honored him earlier this year for his activism on behalf of the forest products industry; Jim was selected among many candidates to receive the Forestry Activist Award for 2002. The award was even more notable because the FRA recognized Jim’s volunteer efforts at a time when he was not even a member of the association.

Jim was one of three volunteer organizers of the Great Northwest Log Haul in 1988. It was the largest mobilization effort on behalf of the timber industry at the time. A convoy of loaded log trucks and supporters from the Northwest traveled to Darby, Montana in an attempt to supply logs to a mill; the mill was suffering from a log shortage due to heightened legal wrangling by environmentalists over logging on national forest lands.

Jim has participated in a plethora of other activities over the years aimed at engaging federal officials and lawmakers. For example, he attended U.S. Senate hearings in the nation’s capital and met with members of Congress this year to advocate for improved management of national forests in the West. He also made three additional trips to Washington, D.C. to push for tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber.

Jim was asked to represent the timber industry in a discussion of Montana wilderness legislation during a ‘Walk in the Woods,’ a 1992 NBC News special report. He used the opportunity to present the forest products industry’s stance on hot-button conservation issues.

Looking back over his life, Jim described his childhood with a sense of appreciation for the lessons he learned about the value of hard work. After finishing the eighth grade, Jim’s father rewarded him with a job as a line employee in his lumber mill. While other boys were playing baseball and fishing, Jim was working eight hours a day, six days a week. The experience helped build his character and was the foundation of a life which has touched thousands of others. Through his willingness to make sacrifices to help others, Jim has helped save jobs in the forest products industry.

U.S. Senator Conrad Burns, R-Montana, hosted a Forestry Summit in 1999 in order to give members of the forest products industry an opportunity to air their concerns about federal management of national forest lands. Jim participated in the summit and decided to take further action.

Jim called Elko, Nevada County Commissioner Mike Naninni to offer help opening a road that had been illegally destroyed by the U.S. Forest Service. Working with several other volunteers, Jim rallied the support of thousands of others. They delivered 11,000 shovels to Elko in January 2000 in order to help rebuild the road. A shovel convey led a 4 ½- mile parade into Elko. That summer, Jim was a welcome guest at the first day of the road reopening in Jarbidge, Nev.

When asked what motivates him to be an advocate for the forest products industry, Jim replied, “It sounds corny, but it’s the people. You go to a basketball game in Eureka, and you see your employees’ kids on the floor, in the stands, and you see the grandparents….and you realize if you are not providing them with a job, they might not be sitting there. That’s what rural America is all about.” That is why he sincerely works to preserve their livelihood. “I want to have a clear conscience…Otherwise, I couldn’t live with myself.”

As the old adage states, what goes around comes around. Jim’s efforts on behalf of others in the forest products industry were repaid in kind. The Eureka Log Hall in 2001 was organized to deliver logs to Owens and Hurst Lumber Company. Jim is an example of one man making a difference in his community and in the nation for the forest products industry. He is not alone, though.

“I am thankful for the support of the many rural Americans who have invested their emotions, their time and their money for the cause of saving our way of life in rural America,” he said. “They are heroes, every one.”