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Plant closures compound troubles for Minnesota loggers

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The permanent closures in August of the Verso paper mill in Sartell and the Georgia-Pacific hardboard plant in Duluth compounded a tough situation for Minnesota's struggling logging industry.

Minnesota Public Radio reported ( Friday that about a third of the state's logging businesses have gone out of business in the past few years, leaving about 1,500 loggers still working. With the closure of six wood-processing plants in the past five years, timber consumption in the state has dropped about a third since the early 2000s, according to the Minnesota Timber Producers Association.

The Verso and Georgia-Pacific shutdowns will eliminate 400 plant jobs while also erasing more of the market for timber.

"I would say the logging industry right now is close to a dying breed," said Mark Benson, whose Benson Brothers Trucking has laid off half its employees since mills started closing.

Benson said Verso's closure wipes out about a quarter of his company's business. His company bought tracts of balsam trees to sell to Verso and now is hard-pressed to find a buyer.

Scott Dane, who heads the trade group Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota, told MPR that the latest closures threaten the entire industry.

"Minnesota is losing the timber industry," he said, adding that some loggers won't recover from August's closures.

Dane would like to see the state release loggers from balsam contracts without penalties, but officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said that would require legislative action.

Dave Thomas, the DNR's regional forest manager, said the state can extend the contracts by a year to give loggers more time to find buyers. But Thomas said that might not happen unless the state can attract new plants for ethanol, bioenergy or electricity.

"If we don't have something like that come in, then we are going to have some significant problems for these guys finding a market and we are going to lose a number of them that are out there," he told MPR.

Still, there are a couple of bright spots.

Near Bemidji, Norbord is spending millions of dollars to modernize a plant that makes oriented-strand board, a building material. It's the last plant of its kind left in Minnesota.

And in Cloquet, the Sappi paper mill is in the middle of a $170 million expansion to convert wood pulp into cellulose fiber to make rayon and other textiles. The textile operation is expected to start operating next spring.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
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