Perspectives on Maine’s changing forest industry
We’re entering the 128th Legislature with a significant amount of change having taken place in Maine’s forest industry. While our members are weathering the storm I wanted to provide some perspective on what’s happening in light of our challenges.
Mill workers feel the pain of closures immediately, but the logging community adapts and contracts as we enter the winter season. What is traditionally our busiest and most productive time of harvest, “the winter surge,” will be stifled by wood yards that are filled with logs, pulpwood and biomass.
Contractors accustomed to “making hay” during this winter season will under capacity and facing a growing amount of equipment payments. While our sawmills are generally performing better in a slowly strengthening housing market, I worry about the markets for their bark, sawdust and chips which are dependent on biomass energy plants and paper mills. Sawmills may be hindered in increasing their production to meet an increasing demand because they have limited options for their residual wood products and can’t just build huge piles on their mill sites. It’s not a great winter ahead, but our resilience is demonstrated time and time again in this business.
Gov. Paul R. LePage continues to champion our industry and Maine’s congressional delegation has been looking for ways to help as well.
In the same way, our incoming Legislature will be eager to help if we can provide them with good ideas for their action. The “Roadmap” strategic planning project we put forward last session with the University of Maine has been joined by additional industry partners and we’ll be following up with legislators on that project.
Members of the industry will be a big part of this effort and we’ll be asking you to participate in meetings to discuss the challenges facing our industry and how we should transition our forest economy.
In addition we are actively seeking input from MFPC committees on legislative initiatives that will help you in your businesses. Please send us your ideas and we will match you up with a bill sponsoring legislator.
I think it is important to realize that the forest industry is still an $8.5 billion economy (similar to 2011 total) and there remains plenty of potential for growth.
I’m also talking with many people about perspective projects in Maine that would begin to rebuild some of the wood markets we lost in the last few years. New entrepreneurs and existing Maine businesses alike are kicking the tires of the state of Maine and the Council will be working with others to rebuild markets for our sustainably managed forest.
I look forward to another productive year in the Legislature and please don’t hesitate to call the MFPC staff if we can do anything to help you or your businesses.