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Forestry issues heading to state Capitol

Trucks, loaded with timber, wait Friday for better weather before drivers head west. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Piles of lumber at Potlatch Lumber Plant east of Bemidji wait to be shipped.Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI – A local group representing the forestry industry and business groups will travel to the state Legislature next week to discuss issues important to them.

Members of the Bemidji Area Forest Affairs Council will travel with colleagues from the Grand Rapids area to meet with legislators and state officials Tuesday, the first time the groups have come to the Legislature together.

Among the topics for discussion will be funding the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ forestry budget. Pete Aube, a member of the local forest affairs council, said funding the DNR will allow them to replace forester positions that have been cut. 

“And basically put together the workforce to produce a minimum of 800,000 cords a year, which is what the DNR has been doing,” Aube said. “The present budget only accounts for about 600,000 or 650,000, and that is inadequate to support the industry.”

That was an issue for Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, as well. He helped put together the “Forestry Day at the Capitol” event.

“The first concern is the Department of Natural Resources having enough general fund money so they can hire enough foresters to put out the number of cords which we have historically in the past,” Saxhaug said Friday. “I have some concern if we will be able to if we keep at the same level we’re at now.”

Aube said other concerns include making sure large landowners aren’t excluded from a tax rebate that small landowners are eligible for, and reaffirming the importance of payment in lieu of taxes (PILT).

PILT funds go to counties where the state owns land, and is therefore non-taxable. 

“That funds a lot of county programs, but in a lot of cases forestry programs,” Aube said. “With nearly half of the forest in northern Minnesota owned by public agencies, the industry is very dependent on what the state and county does with their land.”

 The forest industry is important to northern Minnesota, with $436 million in state and local tax payments generated annually, according to a fact sheet provided at a Friday morning Greater Bemidji meeting.

Aube said while they’ve received support during events like the annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol, it’s important for the forestry industry to make their voice heard at the Legislature.

“But this is more of a true focus on these specific issues in forestry,” he said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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