Loggers in northern Minnesota start work in the dark and go home in the dark. Semis hauling loaded log trailers are a common sight around Aitkin during the winter.
As spring breakup gets underway, huge stockpiles of logs are appearing along 10-ton roads around the county.
Minnesota DNR Utilization and Marketing forester Scott Burns provided some insights into logging businesses heading into spring.
“In Aitkin County winter is the preferred season for wood harvest in order to prevent damage to sensitive forest and wetland soils,” Burns said recently.
While weather is favorable for harvesting timber on frozen ground, logging companies have been working hard to complete sales and get the logs out of the woods and near to a 10-ton road. Hence the big piles of logs you might be seeing.
The stockpiling is wood that had been purchased and with the slowdown brought to a 10-ton road to be able to be moved in the future. People are cleaning up permits and need to get the harvest completed and stockpile the wood until markets open up. Some species are more marketable than other, so there is some sorting going on as loggers work on finding new markets.
Load limits have been imposed on lesser roads, as they are every spring. This minimizes damage to county and township roads that aren’t designed to support heavy traffic.
Burns pointed out that the pandemic has decreased the demand for wood by paper and pulp industries.
At SAPPI in Cloquet, they make dissolved pulp for use in the clothing industry, but that industry has slowed in response to the pandemic.
Paper and lumber mills have also downsized and even been shut down at times because of the pandemic.
Logging businesses and the mills that process the wood were deemed essential workers in 2020. They weren’t shut down except as needed on an individual basis.
“Printing has been reduced. The number of brochures, tickets for sporting events and concerts, posters and even the amount of copy paper needed has been reduced,” Burns said. “As spring comes to northern Minnesota, businesses are rebounding and machines at the mills are busy again. Some of the pallet mills are starting to buy logs again as markets start to pick up and materials start moving again.
Hardwoods are still moving to sawmills; those logs are sorted to go to different mills that make different products out of the various species of timber harvested in this area.
Pallet use was down, due to the reduction in some kinds of shipping. Some Amish communities west of Aitkin have set up sawmills and are cutting pallet parts. That has been a helpful new market for loggers in some of those communities.
Some wood processing mill closures have taken place in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Mills aren’t seeking out some kinds of fiber; Verso in Duluth is one of the processors that has been shut down for the time being.
Wood yards were not in a bad position going into this winter, having their yards full of wood waiting to be processed, so some have reduced the amount they are buying from logging companies. Also, some wood is coming to Minnesota from farther east, where there have also been some shutdowns and loggers are seeking markets farther from home.
So when you see logs being stored in random places along the highway, think about the logging industry that is so important to the economy of northern Minnesota.