Support bill to keep state timber markets strong
Members of the Wisconsin legislature must act quickly to bring AB 367 to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for signature.
The bill provides for a $50 million loan package with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) as part of a larger deal involving private funding and loans through the Bureau of Commissioners of Public land and tapping into federal stimulus funds for a group to reopen the Verso Paper Mill in Wisconsin Rapids. The newly formed Timber Professional Cooperative is a Wisconsin-based organization made up of timber producers and forest owners affiliated with the Wisconsin County Forests Association. They are seeking to acquire the mill in order to secure the long-term future markets for Wisconsin wood products.
Forest products are the second largest industry in Wisconsin, supporting more than 64,000 jobs statewide and contributing more than $24 billion each year to the state’s economy.
In June 2020, two Verso mills were idled. Combined these two mills consumed roughly 25% of the total raw material harvested in Wisconsin, including the majority of low-grade mixed hardwood pulp. The impact of these closures have been dramatic with depressed prices for harvested timber and increasing cost for loggers having to haul to evermore- remote locations. On the surface, a hit to the logging industry may seem to have little impact on others. The reality is that such a blow sweeps through the overall economy, impacting everything from fuel sales and restaurants receipts to the financial institutions and logging equipment suppliers. The ripples from the closure are also impacting county coffers through logging contracts being delayed and sales being devalued or going unsold. This will have a direct impact on taxpayers across the state as forest revenues decline, putting more burden on residential and other taxpayers.
Unlike Foxconn and other pie-in-the sky Wisconsin deals that taxpayers have been asked to support, the so-called “Mill Bill” is a home-grown solution for the long-term manufacture of a traditional Wisconsin product. Wisconsin has been a leader in the production of paper since the state’s first mill opened in Appleton in 1878.
Wisconsin’s county forests cover a combined 2.4 million acres of land that is sustainably managed. The paper industry’s demand for pulp logs allows for the efficient use of forest resources ensuring that little is left in the way of waste and helps improve forest management for wildlife, recreation and hunting.
Beyond just reopening the mill, Wisconsin must also be aggressive in working with mill owners to provide incentives to keep mills updated and provide the support needed to transition mills to in-demand products such as brown paper and packaging materials. The state must look ahead at building sustainable markets for forest products and prevent the markets from being controlled by foreign-held companies.
Contact Rep James Edming and Sen. Jerry Petrowski and tell them to support AB 367 and other bipartisan measures that keep Wisconsin’s logging industry strong.