Miniscule wood chips flit through the air, dust so fine it's almost mist-all that's left of towering trees that existed as giants for decades, then vanished in an instant.
Watching an industrial-sized woodchipper process entire trees, it's something of a microcosm for an industry experiencing a similar vanishing act-more than half of the state's paper mills have closed down since 2008, said Scott Dane, the executive director of Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers Inc., a Minnesota association representing these industries.
Dane joined Shawn Fletcher, of Fletcher Trucking Inc., in welcoming Republican 8th Congressional District candidate Pete Stauber to the area Thursday, Aug. 2.
Stauber is the Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers-endorsed candidate and he spent much of his morning in the swirling wood chips, touring tree-felling operations as he chatted with loggers and local industry representatives.
"Wood products in our family goes back a long ways-with my brother for 30 years, myself working at the wood-treating plant," Stauber said after he folded up a neon yellow safety vest and packed away a hard hat for the day. "This, to me, is our way of life. We have a practicing sustainable resource, sustainable forest management, it's a renewable resource and we're blessed with it here in Minnesota."
Closing paper mills is a reality Brainerd residents are all too familiar with, having seen the city's own mill close down more than once before the Wausau mill shuttered in 2013. Brainerd's mill closure joined scores of similar closures across the state, Dane said, which has put a strain on the respective trucking and logging industries.
Unfortunately, that isn't the end of the industries' woes, he added, counting the loss of $270 million in annual revenue after the Minnesota House of Representatives passed a bill gutting the biomass industry (biomass, in simple terms, is energy fuel sources derived from decaying tree matter). Locally, Fletcher-whose multifaceted business sits on Business Highway 371, just south of Brainerd-said the operation's lost $5 million in revenue every year as a result.
And so they've turned to Stauber, who, Dane said, hasn't been shy about his support for loggers, truckers and other related blue-collar professions long before the campaign trail, back when he was just a commissioner for St. Louis County and hadn't signaled any congressional ambitions.
"We want people that recognize the value of the forest products industry in Minnesota and how it contributes economically and environmentally in Minnesota," said Dane, who noted the loggers and truckers association has only endorsed three candidates in 14 years, including Stauber. "It's Pete Stauber-compared to other candidates who have expressed minimal interest in the industry or have been adversarial to the industry."
Dane said the association is in favor of increased logging in national forests-working in conjunction with state agencies like the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to better manage these resources, instead of imitating California and other western states that just burn them. He said he believes Stauber's congressional aspirations reflect this.
Stauber's visit comes during President Donald Trump's push to raise tariffs with Canada, the European Union and China-hundreds of billions of dollars worth of products tariffed, from soy to steel, which has figured as a central topic in the national discourse of late.
While the president's tariffs look to hike steel costs for the logging and trucking industries, Dane said, the long-term goal justifies the short-term pains by U.S. producers and consumers-more dollars paid by American citizens, into American hands, kept in American borders.
"It's something we recognize as necessary. Just because you can buy two-by-fours cheaper somewhere else, or buy steel cheaper somewhere else-that doesn't do anything for our forest products industry or our steel industry in the United States," Dane said. "The Walmart conception that cheaper is always better isn't something we subscribe to."
He added the association not only supports the tariffs, they're in favor of expanding tariffs on Canadian timber competitors across the border to support American mills in the U.S.
Navigating the deeply rutted mud, awash with recent showers, Stauber shot down the notion he's against Trump's trade policies, touching upon the steel tariffs deeply intertwined with the industries represented by the association.
The steel tariffs, he said, address a long-standing point of injustice for American laborers and manufacturers.
"The Chinese steel dumping should have been dealt with decades ago," Stauber said. "That was cheap steel coming into our country and it affected the men, women and families of the Iron Range. President Trump doesn't want to pit the American miner against the American farmer. This is the start of negotiations."