Brief

State’s struggling timber industry to get pandemic relief money

By: - July 20, 2021 12:39 pm
Cut logs

Cut logs near Humbird, Wis. (Tony Webster | via Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 )

Wisconsin loggers and timber haulers could share in a federal pandemic relief fund of up to $200 million that was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers (PATHH) program in a conference call Tuesday with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).

The timber industry was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Wisconsin, the Verso Paper Co. mill in Wisconsin Rapids closed entirely in July 2000 and other key mills shut down in part because of the coronavirus.

“Even before the pandemic started, they were reeling from major losses due to retaliatory tariffs from China,” Baldwin said Tuesday. “And unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in making things worse.”

“There are probably 1,500 logging companies that could be affected by this in Wisconsin,” Henry Schienebeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Assn., based in Rhinelander, told the Wisconsin Examiner.

Even as the industry started back up, demand was uneven as timber customers — lumber mills and the pulp and paper industry — grappled with workforce shifts as some employees were hesitant about returning to work for fear of exposure to the coronavirus, Schienebeck said.

The aid program was funded in the Consolidated Appropriations Act-2021, enacted in late December 2020. Vilsack said its launch was delayed in part because of the transition between the administrations of Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Schienebeck said the Farm Service Agency (FSA) at USDA also needed time to understand the timber harvesting and hauling industry in order to establish appropriate eligibility guidelines. “They wanted to make sure that the money went to the right people — full-time loggers and truckers,” he said.

Vilsack said applications for the program will start being accepted on Thursday, July 22, and run through October 15. FSA is implementing the program with the U.S. Forest Service and managing the application process.

Relief payments will cover up to 80% of the gross revenues lost in 2020 compared with 2019. USDA will pay out $2,000 to eligible applicants as soon as possible, Vilsack said, then pay the balance based on how many applications the department receives. Payments will be capped at $125,000 per business.

Although logging is managed under the agriculture department, Schienebeck said the logging industry hasn’t typically asked for, or received, the sort of government financial aid that goes to farmers. “Now for the first time we have a path for maybe creating some parity [between] the farmers and loggers,” he said.

The USDA has established an informational website for the PATHH program.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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