The paper mill and the small town of Luke are situated next to each other in Western Maryland. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The June 2 Metro article “A paper mill goes silent” on the closing of the Verso mill in Luke, Md., was a gut-wrenching read. It described the human toll of the mill’s closure, but it missed a vital part of the story: the significant blow to the health, resiliency and productivity of working forests in the area.

For more than 130 years, the Verso mill drove demand for wood from a more than 90-mile radius of working forests in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Now, local forest landowners will face tough decisions about whether to invest in their forests without the local markets to ensure an economic return. Many forest owners may forgo forest health investments, including treatments to prevent insect infestation and disease, thinning and replanting trees after harvest. 

As the risk of decline in the health and quality of working forests goes up, so does the risk of ignoring forest conversion. Forest owners may seek other uses for their land, converting to agriculture, wind or solar farms, or sell for development. When we hurt the mills, we hurt the forests, which means we don’t value the clean air and water, wildlife habitat and jobs they provide. 

Paul Howe, Richmond

The writer is executive director of the
Virginia Forestry Association. 

Frank Stewart, Charleston, W. Va.

The writer is executive director of the
West Virginia Forestry Association. 

Dave Tenny, Washington

The writer is president and chief executive of the National Alliance of Forest Owners.