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'Stop the politics': Inaction on paper mill disappoints Northwoods logger


Story By Morgan Johnson
Local News Published 08/31/2021 4:35PM, Last Updated 08/31/2021 6:13PM
Elcho - Dennis Schoeneck has been logging the forests of northern Wisconsin for decades.

Up here, the logging industry is in unfamiliar territory. Schoeneck used to send a lot of his wood to the Wisconsin Rapids Verso Paper Mill. But on June 9, it shut down. That left him and his employees hanging.

"When they called and said no more deliveries, that's pretty immediate, the effect it has on us," said Schoeneck. "So we had to scramble and figure out what is our next move."

Schoeneck and many other loggers took a hit financially. Since the closure of the Park Falls and Wisconsin Rapids mills, some loggers have been making 15 to 20 percent less for their timber. Meanwhile the prices of other products, such as fuel and machinery,  are going up.

In an effort to stabilize the Wisconsin timber industry, Schoeneck and others formed a co-op to purchase and run the Wisconsin Rapids and Park Falls mills.

"It's a successful, long, sustainable plan for that mill," said Schoeneck.

All they needed was a loan from the state. But their plans came to a halt when the Gov. Evers and Republican legislators couldn't agree on how to fund the mills' operation. Evers wanted to pay for it with extra money by expanding BadgerCare, but Republican legislators wanted to use money from the American Rescue Plan. The two sides couldn't agree.

"I just wish they'd stop the politics and do what's right," said Schoeneck. "It's disheartening for me as a logger."

Even though Schoeneck is frustrated, he won't give up until a deal is sealed--not only for the loggers, mill workers, and other timber professionals, but for fellow Wisconsinites to enjoy the outdoors. Without buyers for timber, Schoeneck said forests could become poorly managed.

"Trees don't last forever," said Schoeneck. "They might last your lifetime, but they don't last forever. Our goal is to make a forest be there forever. And by doing that, it takes management."

For Schoeneck, it's not just the profit. It's about the future of Wisconsin and its forest health.
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