Wood Chipper Co. Revives Forest Product Industry - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Wood Chipper Co. Revives Forest Product Industry

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BONNER -

The forest products industry is alive and well in western Montana once again, after multiple pulp and paper mills have closed in recent years.

Earlier this year, three businesses partnered with local forest land owners and logging companies to produce wood chips in Bonner, creating more jobs and a boost to the Montana economy.

Willis Enterprises log buyer, Richard Lane, said when the Smurfit-Stone Container pulp mill shut down in 2010, it left a gap in western Montana's market for timber known as pulp wood.

Lane said, "Small diameter round wood, the trees that you'll find often in the understory of a forest that aren't utilized as saw logs."

He explained for the past few years, many of these trees simply went to waste.

"All that small diameter trees were pushed into a pile and burned."

Now, Lane explains the company's wood chipping plant -- located at the former Stimson lumber mill site -- allows Willis to create a value-added product that helps sustain the forestry business.

"It's good utilization of a product that shouldn't go to waste," he said.

Montana DNRC, the Forest Service and the Salish and Kootenai Tribes sell timber to logging companies, which deliver the logs to the plant in Bonner.

Officials said logging trucks bring in 700-800 tons of logs every single day.

"And then when the logs come in, they're unloaded, and they're put into a big drum debarker, and they tumble through this drum, and then they come out into a trough and then they're chipped into that product," Lane explained.

Ten Montana Rail Link cars are filled with wood chips every day, and then delivered to a plant owned by Boise Incorporated -- a Washington-based pulp and paper mill business that converts them into packing and high end paper products.

MRL employee Jim Lewis said they were able to hire back employees who were let go when the forest products business declined.

"It's great to see this growth and it's good for our company," Lewis said.

Willis officials said the chipping plant employs ten people, but many more operate trucks and provide other services.

They said the plant purchases $6 million worth of timber every year.

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