COVID-19 Pandemic Economic Downturn Impacts Timber Industry Dependent Towns

Citing a lack of demand for paper products due to COVID-19 pandemic and the switch to digital media, Verso Corporation announced the closure of their mill in Duluth Minnesota in June, and that was quickly followed by the closure of the Wisconsin Rapids mill in July. Both mills were dedicated to the production of glossy paper for print. The closures sent shockwaves through the region. A region that is highly dependent on the timber industry. Henry Schienebeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association (GLTPA) estimates that the Verso mill closures has affected upwards of 14,000 jobs, not only those of the 1,000 mill workers, but also people who cut and transported timber to the operations. Wisconsin is unique nationally in that its counties are the largest public landholder in the state. Wisconsin counties that have long based their budgets around timber sales – local jurisdictions that are already reeling from other pandemic-related financial concerns. As a result of the closures counties are being forced to make large cuts which are impacting road maintenance, schools and other social services. The lack of logging also has the potential of upending management strategies around log harvest which are used to ensure healthy and sustainable forests which in turn are keeping insect infestation and other diseases in check.

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