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Quarantine proposal raises concerns

A load of spruce logs is unloaded at Hedstrom Lumber Company in Grand Marias. President Howard Hedstrom says a wood quarantine proposed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for Lake and Cook counties would hurt his business and customers. (File photo)

Some big changes could be coming to the Northeastern Minnesota logging and lumber businesses, bringing new challenges for one of the region's biggest industries.The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is set to initiate a quarantine on wood harvested in Lake and Cook counties next spring in an effort to stop the nationwide spread of the invasive gypsy moth, putting in place strict regulations on the transportation of wood from the two counties.

"It's huge," said Howard Hedstrom, president of Hedstrom Lumber in Grand Marais. "It's a huge compliance nightmare to the point where it's going to hurt the customer."

Under the proposed quarantine, wood can still be shipped within and outside of the two counties. However, loggers, lumber yards and any other facilities receiving wood harvested from the quarantine zone must sign a compliance agreement with the MDA.The compliance agreement will include a long checklist of procedures for handling wood. Most notably, wood can not sit for more than five days after being harvested. Once the wood goes through a finishing process, it is no longer subject to the quarantine.

"That five-day period where it has to be separated and consumed, that gets to be a logistics nightmare," Hedstrom said. "It's almost impossible to meet the compliance agreement."

Gypsy moth caterpillars can defoliate large sections of forest. The European invasive species has been in Northeastern Minnesota since at least 1969, according to the MDA, but preventative strategies have kept the population down for several decades. However, the species has become so prevalent in Lake and Cook county forests that the agency is left with no choice but to put the quarantine in place, according to MDA communications coordinator Liz Erickson. Because the two counties recently surpassed a federal threshold for the gypsy moth population, the MDA was forced to either quarantine the entire state or limit the restrictions to the two counties, Erickson said. Other areas in the state continue to be sprayed to control the population.

"It's to the point where it's no longer worth treating (in Lake and Cook counties)," Erickson said. "We'll just do what we can to slow the spread."

The gypsy moth population was once confined to the Northeast United States, but the population has steadily spread west across the country over the past few decades. Gypsy moths have no known predators, so once the species overtakes an area, the population is usually there to stay. And once an area is defoliated, it's easy for other invasive species to move in. Much of western Wisconsin has already been quarantined. Hedstrom predicted that many companies will look outside Lake and Cook counties for logs, or value the product at a lower price if the proposal is put in place.

"Our company is not big enough to keep logging companies alive," he said. "We need others, and this quarantine is pretty threatening."

Joe Ernest of A&J Logging, Inc. in Isabella said he is anticipating financial losses if the quarantine is put in place.

"The way the markets are now, it ain't good anyway," said Ernest, who counts Sappi Fine Paper in Cloquet as a major client. "There can't be long weekends anymore. If you harvest it Thursday or Friday, it has to be gone Monday or Tuesday. When you have 10 or 12 loads stacked up, waiting, it ain't a good deal."

Erickson said the MDA is reaching out to loggers - and any companies that handle the product - to discuss the quarantine's ramifications and secure compliance agreements before it goes into effect.

Several open house meetings have also been held. The MDA is also working with the county boards and other local governments. Nate Eide, the Lake County land commissioner, discussed the proposal at a county board meeting in late April. He said the county has heard from concerned loggers and is looking further into the matter.

"We're still trying to learn about this," he said. "We don't quite know how this will affect us."

The board displayed some concern for local businesses."My concern will be the guy on the ground," Commissioner Rick Goutermont said. "The logger."

The quarantine is still a proposal at this time and plans can not be finalized until the MDA and local loggers have had ample time to prepare, Erickson said. The MDA is still seeking public input. For comments or questions, call (888) 545-6684 or email