Logging Industry Remains Vital to Minnesota’s Economy

Brad Finstad

When Minnesotans think of logging in our state, images of Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox and other tall tales of Minnesota lumberjack folklore come to mind.

While Minnesota does indeed have a rich and colorful logging past, the industry today is still a very vital part of our economy.

Commercial lumbering began in Minnesota in 1839, when businessmen from New England began setting up camps here to log our abundant supply of white pine. In 1900, over 20,000 lumberjacks and 10,000 horses were working in Minnesota’s pineries, and more than 2.3 billion board feet—or about 4.7 million cords—of timber were cut from our state’s forests.

As the 20th Century moved forward, the logging industry began to decline, to the point that, in 1929, the Rainy Lake Lumber Company in Virginia, Minn., the largest white pine lumber company in the world, closed its doors.

In the 1990s, a second logging revolution began in Minnesota and our state experienced an amazing turnaround in the economic impact of our forests. Today, approximately 3.8 million cords of wood fiber are harvested here annually, and the wood products industry provides over 30,000 jobs paying approximately $1.4 billion in wages.

With careful planning, our state can continue to reap the benefits of our forest resources for generations to come…and we’ll all come to realize that logging in Minnesota is about a whole lot more than Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

(Brad Finstad is executive director of the Center for Rural Policy and Development. He can be reached at bfinstad@ruralmn.org.)