When the Verso Corp. paper mill in Duluth closed its doors this summer, the northern Minnesota area took an economic hit. With the area’s largest buyers of spruce and balsam fir trees out of business there is little to no demand for logs and local foresters are now worried that thousands of acres of trees are at risk for wildfires. Jason Meyer, deputy director of St. Louis County’s land and minerals department noted that Minnesota is in the midst of a prolonged outbreak of spruce budworm, a pest and caterpillar that has killed more than 200,000 acres of fir and spruce trees in each of the last three years. The insect wreaking havoc on spruce and fir is native to Minnesota and is found just about everywhere the trees are. “Without an outlet, all that balsam fir and spruce that would have been utilized is being left in the woods,” Meyer said. “Couple that with the budworm outbreak and you’re left with these thick stands of dead, dying and drying out trees. It creates more of a fire hazard.”
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Trees that once fed Duluth paper mill could become tinder for wildfires