Forest Products Industry Adapts

Forestry is a major employer statewide. In 10 counties, forestry is the No. 1 employer. So any mill closures or change in markets and management has a major impact on the economy.

For example, the Verso and Park Falls mill closures impact the workers, the suppliers and the forests themselves, explains Collin Buntrock, a forest products team leader for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin landowners account for 60 percent of the state’s forest owners. So any change in market dynamics impacts private landowners, too. The county forest system is also robust. So timber sale revenue has a big impact on municipality budgets.

Rhinelander-based Buntrock’s key responsibility is to share the significance of the timber industry to the state’s economy. He says a thriving forest products industry also leads to sustainably managed forests; revenue encourages landowners to practice good stewardship of their land.

Despite current supply chain and market challenges facing Wisconsin’s forest products industry, Bunrtock says the sector remains viable in Wisconsin. He attributes the industry’s resiliency to producers’ willingness to innovate. About 60 percent of Wisconsin’s timber goes to the pulp and paper market. He says while demand for graphic paper for printing and writing has gone down, producers have shifted to meet e-commerce demands for cardboard boxes and paper shipping materials.

Wisconsin timber also goes toward veneer, composite, cabinetry and furniture, and some lumber. Buntrock gives an update on the lumber market — he expects those high prices to level off soon and stabilize to pre-pandemic prices.

The forestry industry in Wisconsin is looking forward to new markets in building. Mass timber — dimensional lumber assembled in multiple layers — allowing large buildings to be made of strictly timber. Milwaukee will be home to the largest mass timber building in the western hemisphere, called the Ascent building. It’s slated to be over 20 stories and uses timber for about 75 percent of those floors.

Buntrock says this is an exciting time to see how wood and other forest products can play a role in allowing people to better build cities and tackle climate change, because wood stores a lot of carbon, is durable and is long living. As far as fire concerns, mass timber chars and therefore resists fire.