Closure of IP's Courtland paper mill in Alabama expected to affect 5,404 loggers and foresters in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee; state forester fears impact on management of Alabama's 22.9 million acres of timberland

DECATUR, Alabama , October 19, 2013 () – Eva logger Bobby Collins spoke with uncertainty as he described the options he will be forced to pursue when the Courtland mill closes.

In addition to the 1,096 International Paper employees who will be displaced when the mill closes by late March, the closure will also affect an estimated 5,404 loggers and foresters in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, according to the Alabama Forestry Commission.

"It's a bad situation," said Collins, who has contracted with IP for 18 years. "We're going to have to make cuts. The next thing we'll do is look for other markets."

Collins operates a family-owned business with six employees that cuts trees and hauls them. He estimated that 80 percent of his business is with International Paper. Future trips to other mills could be more than twice as far as his 25-mile, one-way commute to the Courtland mill.

In addition, Collins worries other companies will not have as great a demand as IP. The Courtland mill accepts 520 loads of wood a day on average, according to IP spokeswoman Laura Gipson.

"IP was a monster. There's no way that there's something within a 130-mile radius that's going to carry the load IP carried," he said.

Without IP, there are 11 remaining paper mills in the state, according to the forestry commission. There are four mills in Mississippi and four in Tennessee.

Cameron Isbell, of Leighton-based Advantage Forest Resources, said IP's closing is forcing him to consider Packaging Corp. of America in Counce, Tenn., a 142-mile round-trip haul.

"We've got some options," he said. "The problem with that is everybody else is going to do the same thing, so those mills are going to exceed their limits a lot faster than they normally do."

Isbell said he likely will downsize production after the Courtland mill closes. IP was his most significant buyer.

"I was a loyal IP supplier," he said. "And basically, I tried to buy everything 100 percent to go to IP."

Alabama forests provide more than 122,000 jobs in timber and processing, according to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

There are 22.9 million acres of timberland in the state, 30 percent of which are pine plantations that can be used to make paper products.

Alabama State Forester Linda Casey said the threat to foresters goes beyond economic loss and can affect clean air, water and wildlife habitats.

"If you can't manage your timber, then it can get under stress, and bad things happen," she said, explaining how unmanaged timber makes forests more susceptible to fires and infestation.

"All you have to do is look out west," she said. "There are no markets out there, and right now they are battling the mountain pine beetle. Dead trees everywhere. If you don't have markets, that's a reality."

Casey said eliminating the paper mill will also impact saw mills, where loggers and foresters dispose of chip wood.

"The paper mill is important in terms of your ability to take products that are a lower grade," she said. "To get another industry in there, that's going to take time."

Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2442 or mqualls@decaturdaily.com.

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