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Legislators tour area forestry industry sites

Jack Wallingford, manager of Norbord OSB mill in Solway, second from right, explains the plant operation to a group of state legislators last week. From left are Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji; Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria; Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji; Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji; Pete Aube, Potlatch Bemidji manager; Wallingford; and Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. Submitted Photo

On Friday, Sept. 9, Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, and other legislators toured several sites in the Bemidji area relating to forest products.

The group included Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria; Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids; Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji; Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings; Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji; and Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Deer River.

Carlson said he and fellow legislators learned more about the importance in northern Minnesota of the forest industry, the fourth largest industry in the state.

"This tour was informational and offered a specific focus on managing resources and job creation within the industry," Carlson said in a press release. "I was eager for the leaders of the Senate and House Environment and Natural Resource Committees to familiarize themselves with the forestry industry in northern Minnesota. Our trip included stops in Hackensack, Cass Lake, Bemidji and Solway."

At Deep Portage Learning Center in Hackensack the legislators learned about the vital role education plays in preparing area youth to make the most responsible use of Minnesota's great outdoors.

"I firmly believe that educating young people about conservation will lead to greater awareness of environmental issues and will prepare those interested for a career within the forest industry," Carlson

They also looked at the role forestry plays in bio-fuel: three pieces of firewood equaling the energy of one gallon of propane. He said the use of wood gasification systems, wind and solar power has saved Deep Portage more than $50,000 a year in energy costs.

The group then traveled to a site south of Cass Lake where a stand of red pine was being thinned. Forest management requires taking out selective trees to allow the remaining tress to grow bigger and faster.

"Sort of like thinning a row of carrots in your garden," Carlson said.

They visited a fourth-generation family logging business, a reminder of the important work that lies ahead to protect the future of the forest industry for generations to come.

They picnicked at Norway Beach, a national forest campground east of Cass Lake, and visited with members of the Bemidji and Grand Rapids Area Forestry Affairs Councils.

"There I spoke with members of the forestry industry, representatives from the DNR, U.S. Forest Service and the local chambers of commerce," Carlson said. "Among the goals presented at the meeting included a commitment to increase an affordable, reliable and sustainable wood supply. This is imperative to ensure the continued prosperity of the industry."

The afternoon portion of the tour took them to Potlatch Lumber mill and Pine Products in Bemidji then to the Norbord OSB plant in Solway. Combined, these plants employ more than 200 people in well-paying jobs that rely on a dependable supply of wood.

"I took several lessons away from this tour," Carlson said. "Streamlining the permitting process is an important reform that is critical to the protection and expansion of the forest industry. We also need to ensure the Minnesota Forestry Division of the DNR is funded at a level that provides a sufficient number of foresters on the ground. Our timber resources must be utilized in a proper manner and we must make the land more manageable. These necessary reforms will lead to the continued expansion of the forest industry and will make the best use of Minnesota's natural resources."