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Paper mill to lay off 65, pursue buyer

Flambeau River Papers notified the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Monday it intends to lay off 65 employees within the next 60 days.

The news follows the company's May 8 announcement of filing Chapter 128 status, a Wisconsin bankruptcy alternative that protects the business from past debts while pursuing the sale of its assets as an operating business.

According to a company notice, an attorney — or receiver — is to be appointed by the local circuit court and given authorization to continue running business operations while a buyer is sought. The notice goes on to say if the receiver's sale of the business is not successful, FRP will close its Park Falls plant.

FRP Vice President of Operations Aaron Johnson said an active sales process is in the works but could not give more detail. He said there will be a

timeframe for prospective buyers to visit the mill and complete assessment of the company's assets. Johnson said Chapter 128 will allow a buyer to purchase the assets of the company debt free while also allowing the company to remain open.

"We intend to run as long as we can until we can find a buyer," Johnson said in an email.

The mill will also make major changes to its pa per production line over the next 60 days by shutting down the No. 1 paper machine and consolidating its most profitable paper grades to the No. 2 machine, which will have an average output of 75 tons of product per day.

The pulp mill operation will remain at full production and the wet lap pulp sales are set to increase, according to Johnson.

The existing employee base is expected to remain in place for at least the next 60 days. FRP currently employs 187 people.

The mill shut down its bulk production No. 3 paper machine in January 2018. That shut down involved the layoff of 82 employees.

"[After 60 days], we plan to continue production by maximizing our pulping operation and balancing our supply of products with our customers' demand," said CEO Butch Johnson in a press release. "While FRP has made significant progress over the last several months, the softening paper markets make this the best option to continue operations while maximizing employment levels in Park Falls. A smaller, but more focused FRP should enhance our ability to find the right buyer."

The paper mill last ceased operation in 2006 when SMART Papers of Hamilton, Ohio filed for bankruptcy. At that time, the plant was closed for only six months until Flambeau River Papers purchased the mill for approximately $19 million.

Wolves kill three dozen sheep on Park Falls farm

A pack of wolves returned after a three-year hiatus to kill three dozen sheep on a farm north of Park Falls on Monday.

Paul and Judy Canik woke Monday morning to find 31 of their Katahdin lambs and five adult females had been killed by wolves sometime between midnight and 6 a.m.

"Evidently we were sleeping too sound and didn't hear the dogs," Paul said. "They usually bark loud enough to alert us whenever the wolves are around."

The couple has several Spanish Mastiff guard dogs on the farm to help ward off predators, but since wolves killed two of the expensive purebreds a few years ago, the couple keep the dogs penned at night.

This is the second time the Caniks have suffered a large loss of sheep from their farm. In 2016, wolves, potentially of the same pack, killed 17 of their bighorn sheep, valued at $1,200 each. After that depredation, the USDA Wildlife Service installed two miles of fladry — a string of colored flags that move in the wind — accompanied by electric fencing around the perimeter of the pasture. That fencing had not been installed yet this year when the attack happened Monday.

The pack in the area of the Caniks' farm is known as the Flood Creek Pack and was counted at eight individuals this winter, according to USDA Supervisory Wildlife Biologist Dave Ruid.

Ruid said sheep and poultry are particularly vulnerable to wolves, especially in April and May when their natural forms of prey are at limited availability. In mid to late May when white-tailed deer begin fawning, there is generally a decline in livestock depredations.

As in the 2016 killing, Monday's is considered a surplus

killing, in which wolves kill more than they can eat, or perhaps don't eat what they kill at all. The reason for this is somewhat unknown, but it is much easier for a wolf to kill a sheep confined to a pen than natural prey, which may trigger their instincts as a predator, according to Ruid.

Twenty-four of the lambs were carried offsite, while the rest were found scattered around the pasture, and all five of the dead or dying ewes were found uneaten.

"The one pregnant ewe carrying triplets, she survived by standing in the middle of the pond," Paul said. The Caniks recovered just two injured ewes and two lambs.

"Those wolves have got pups right now and of course they've gotta get food to them," Paul said. "Of course this is real easy for them. And they're also training last year's young how to kill."

Brad Koele, Woodruff-based wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said in this particular case, it is suspected that livestock hunting is a learned behavior for these wolves — a cycle which is difficult to break.

Koele said that if wolves were not currently listed as an endangered species, the DNR would likely take lethal action in order to curb the problem at Caniks' farm, trapping and removing wolves that come onto the property.

"There are lots of wolves and wolf packs out there that aren't causing any issues to livestock," said Koele. "Packs that do kill livestock often teach their young, and we see them preying on farm animals again and again."

According to Ruid, Wisconsin averages between 25 and 35 farms throughout the state that experience issues with livestock depredation on an annual basis. Although it is significant to the individual farmer, wolf-caused livestock depredations are not a significant problem in the state, according to Ruid.

The most recent wolf population numbers for Wisconsin show a statewide count for 2017-18 at 905 to 944 animals, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Due to the endangered species listing, there are no provisions for lethal removal of gray wolves in the state. Live translocation is also not an option since there are no vacant areas in the state, Ruid said.

Through the USDA and Wisconsin DNR, farmers with confirmed wolf depredations can claim reimbursement from the state, which generally takes 1 1/2 to 2 months to receive.

For now, the Caniks plan to put a radio on a hill in the middle of the pasture to scare wolves away.

Any livestock producers in northern Wisconsin who suspect they are experiencing wolf-related issues should call the USDA-Wildlife Services at 800-228-1368.

Price County site of extensive atmospheric research project

Last week, passerbyers on State Highway 182 may have glimpsed three men working to construct a small, science-fictionesque device in a field off the highway. Measuring about 10 feet high, this gangly structure will soon be part of an international atmospheric research project slated to take place this summer.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the project will build upon the nearly 30 years worth of atmospheric data gathered at the WLEF-TV tall tower, located about 10 miles east of Park Falls.

In a nod to its Wisconsin roots, the project has been dubbed CHEESEHEAD, an outlandishly lengthy acronym that stands for "Chequamegon Heterogeneous Ecosystem Energy-balance Study Enabled by a High-density Extensive Array of Detectors." In the next few months, scientists and students from across the U.S. and Europe will gather here at data-collection ground zero in northern Price County.

Between the months of June and October, an

extensive series of measurements will be taken, all with the aim of gathering a comprehensive understanding of how a variety of ecosystems and vegetation affect climate and the weather.

While similar projects have been done on a small scale in other parts of the world, this $4 million project will utilize cutting edge technology to gather readings from 19 sites in a 10x10 kilometer box surrounding the WLEF-TV tall tower — all joining together to become what may be the most intensive climate research at a single location over a short period of time.

While the tall tower gives scientists a snapshot of what is happening in one specific part of the region, each of the 19 data collections sites will build that picture. The 19 sites will be placed in a variety of ecosystems — pine stands, deciduous forests, bogs, marshes, lakes, fields, and young aspen stands — gathering data from each unique landscape.

Professor Ankur Desai is the project's principal investigator — a fancy term for the lead scientist. Desai hails from UW-Madison's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department and has been involved with the climate research at the tall tower for several years.

Despite the windy, chilly spring weather the small crew battled to set up the first of the datacollection sites, there was an apparent hum of excitement in the group as they prepared to launch what will be a benchmark research project.

"The long-term measurements [gathered at the tower] are interesting and they tell us how individual sites are changing," said Desai. "But what we really want to get at is how the landscape as a whole is affecting climate. We will be measuring the atmosphere, the land surface, everything you need to really understand and improve the weather models we're now using for weather forecasting."

Desai, who has been involved in climate research for much of his career, first got the idea for this project back in 2013.

While there are about 400 other sites around the world gathering atmospheric data similar to the WLEF-TV tower, this still leaves vast areas of land completely unstudied. This makes data comparison extremely difficult due to the variability in landscapes and conditions at each of the varying sites.

"I selected this area because I knew we could work here easily," explained Desai. "One of the reasons we want to work here beyond it being a interesting, complex landscape is that this is a great community where we have a lot of support. We knew this was a feasible location to do this research."

Building on the decades' worth of data already gathered at the WFEL-TV tower, the additional measurements taken over this summer will help test a variety of hypotheses on how energy and water cycling work — deepening scientists' understanding of these complex interactions between the land and atmosphere.

Due to the intensive review process required by the Natural Science Foundation in order to receive grant funding, Desai had to prove that the project was feasible, safe, and a scientifically interesting experiment, and his hypotheses underwent review ensure they were scientifically sound. The grant funding was finally received in 2018, allowing for the project to commence this summer.

In order to build the complex data set required to fully understand this small 10x10 kilometer area, a full team of people will pull together over the coming months, taking measurements with a variety of different focuses.

A team from UW-Madison's forest ecology program will record standard data on the productivity of trees — tree diameter, species composition, etc. — in plots surrounding the towers.

The forest canopies will be measured by a UW-Milwaukee group, which will be taking detailed measurements of light, leaf growth, and temperature.

Scientists and grad students from the University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center will use microwaves and laser pulses to measure the structure of the atmosphere, using sonar that bounces off invisible particles in the atmosphere.

A group from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany will bring a high-tech laser, weighing in at a hulking 10 tons, to the central site where it will be used to measure water vapors.

Each day, the National Center for Atmospheric Research will be deploying a weather balloon equip with high-end instruments that will measure the structure of the atmosphere — temperature, humidity, wind, etc.

Tapping into local resources, the project will also involve a group of students from Butternut High School science teacher Laurie Fox's class. The teenagers have spent the past year learning to make fundamental measurements, which they will now take at the 19 sites on a weekly basis throughout the summer.

"That's a really exciting addition to the project because it's a measurement we didn't propose, we don't have a lot of funding for, but will help us solve a couple questions that were initially beyond the scope of the landscape," said Desai.

Desai noted it is possible that the Chequamegon High School charter class may get involved as well.

James Mineau, a 2018 graduate of Chequamegon High School and a current freshman at UWMadison, will also be assisting with the project.

In addition to the 19 physical sites, data will also be collected from the air via a series of flights over the area. The smallest aircraft will include drones flying through the forest to measure the temperature of vegetation, while UW-Madison Professor Grant Petty will fly his ultra-light aircraft (think a flying lawn chair, which looks as improbable as it sounds) just over the tops of the trees.

For three weeks — one in July, one in August, and one in September — an air crew from the University of Wyoming will be buzzing very low over the forestland in the area of the tower, gliding only about 300 feet over the ground.

Working with the Wisconsin DNR's air crew, measurements will also be taken from a higher altitude, flying about 6,000 feet off the ground.

The grand capper will be when NASA flies the International Space Station over this part of the globe in order to take measurements of water and carbon dioxide from space.

The sheer scope and cooperation of this project makes it unique, according to Desai, with about 40 scientists from a variety of disciplines arriving in the northwoods in the coming months.

"These people have done these types of measurements all over the world, but it is rare to bring them all into one spot," he said. "This is going to be the most intensively measured 10x10 kilometer box ever for the atmosphere."

On Monday, May 20, locals will get a chance to meet with Desai and a few of the other lead scientists on the CHEESEHEAD team. There will be a public presentation from 3:30-5 p.m. at the Park Falls Public Library where anyone interested is welcome to come and learn more about the project. Following the public presentation at the library, there will be an information Q&A session at the neighboring Park Falls Gastropub.

While it may be years before the data gathered right here in the backyard of the northwoods can effect change, there is no doubt it will provide new insights into humans' understanding of the world.

"This experiment is building us benchmark data for how vegetation and the atmosphere interact in complex regions that people will be studying for decades," said Desai.

Suspected meth lab found in Fifield

James Kolanowski

Susan Wildermuth

Kevin Palmer

A search warrant conducted by the Price County Sheriff's Department May 6 in the Town of Fifield resulted in the discovery of a suspected methamphetamine cooking operation and the subsequent arrest of three individuals.

This is the first time a meth manufacturing operation has been discovered by law enforcement in Price County.

Sheriff's Department Investigator Robert Hawn reported

upon searching the residence of James Kolanowski evidence suspected to be part of a smalls-cale meth cooking operation was found. Due to the potential danger posed to law enforcement and neighboring residences, the Park Falls Fire Department and EMS were called in to stand by while the evidence was retrieved from the residence by a contractor with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration.

The production of meth poses serious risks due to the highly flammable ingredients (which can include paint thinner, drain cleaner, battery acid, or lithium from batteries) and the toxic and potentially deadly fumes released by mixing the chemicals together.

In this case, the evidence found suggests meth was being created using what is known as the one-pot method, where small amounts of meth are processed in soda bottles in a short amount of time, after which the materials are destroyed. Hawn noted this makes it particularly difficult for law enforcement to find these types of operations.

The materials found at Kolanowski's residence were seized and will be tested by the state crime laboratory to legally confirm they were being used in the production of methamphetamine.

Following the search of Kolanowski's residence, law enforcement learned that some of the cooking material might be found at a residence in the Town of Elk. A subsequent search of the residence, which was occupied by Susan Wildermuth, revealed more equipment and materials suspected of being used to create methamphetamine. These materials will also be sent to the state's crime laboratory for testing.

A small quantity of meth was found and seized in both residences.

Kolanowski was arrested on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine drug paraphernalia, possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine, and possession of waste from manufacturing methamphetamine.

Wildermuth was arrested on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine drug paraphernalia, possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of waste from manufacturing methamphetamine, and purchasing pseudoephedrine products on behalf of another.

Pseudoephedrine, which is found in some cold medications, is used in the production of meth.

A third individual, Kevin Palmer, was arrested on a probation hold and will be referred to the county District Attorney for purchasing pseudoephedrine on behalf of another and possession of materials for manufacturing methamphetamine.

These are all felony charges.

The investigation into this case, which began in September 2018, is still ongoing. The investigation began following a report that Kolanowski and Wildermuth were reportedly manufacturing methamphetamine, after which law enforcement had to develop enough probable cause to execute a search warrant of the residences, according to Hawn. In April 2019, an interview with an individual revealed they had been purchasing pseudoephedrine on behalf of Kolanowski and Wildermuth in order to manufacture methamphetamine.

Hawn reported that the Sheriff's Department will continue working to identify purchasers of pseudoephedrine.

While this is the first time law enforcement has found a methamphetamine manufactured in the county, Hawn said evidence found in other investigations indicate that several other small-scale operations exist throughout the area as people can quickly cook meth and then destroy the evidence.

While local law enforcement continue to work to curb the use and sale of meth, Hawn stated he believes it is still spreading throughout the county.

Since Jan. 1, 2019, the Price County Sheriff's Office has arrested 14 individuals for the possession of methamphetamine and/or distribution of methamphetamine. This does not include arrests made by the Wisconsin State Patrol, Park Falls Police Department, or the Phillips Police Department.

Hawn noted that the number of drug-related arrests made in the county could not be done without the support of Sheriff Brian Schmidt.

"Sheriff Schmidt has a no tolerance policy for the use or distribution of controlled substances and he supports me and my investigations which I believe plays a large role in our success in attempting to deter this epidemic," Hawn said.

The Price County Sheriff's Department received assistance from numerous agencies in this investigation, including the Phillips Police Department, Park Falls Police Department, Price County District Attorney's Office, Wisconsin Department of Justice-Division of Criminal Investigations, Adams County Sheriff's Office, Portage County Sheriff's Office, Park Falls Fire and Rescue, and Park Falls EMS.

Hawn noted that all people arrested should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)