By Patrick Strauch, special to the Portland Press Herald
Recently, your paper ran an opinion piece (“Commentary: Don’t be fooled by myths of carbon in Maine, New England wood products,” Nov. 7) by authors from two out-of-state groups that misrepresented Maine’s forest industry and oversimplified the very complicated issue of climate change. The truth is, Maine’s responsibly managed forest provides an abundance of clean air, clean water, critical wildlife habitat and recreational access that is unparalleled – while also supporting ambitious climate goals and industry in some of the state’s most rural communities.
Pre-European settlement, Maine’s landscape was 92% forested. Today, with 17.5 million acres of forestland, Maine is 89% forested. Of that acreage, only 352,400 acres of forestland are harvested annually, according to the USDA. Harvest acres are regenerated and, as a result, Maine is growing far more trees each year than are being removed, allowing for both carbon sequestration and long-term carbon storage in the form of long-lived timber products.
It is also worth noting that Maine’s private landowners, who own 94% of the state’s forestland, are leading the nation in third-party certified sustainable forestry with 8.3 million acres of forestland certified by nationally recognized programs. To achieve certification, landowners must adhere to forest practices that are environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible.
According to research by the University of Maine, our managed forest currently captures 75% of the state’s annual fossil fuel emissions, with 60% captured by the forest and 15% captured in forest products.
The fact is, everybody uses wood products. If we want to slow climate change and reduce our carbon footprint, we must find more ways to use these renewable forest-based products instead of non-renewable fossil fuel derived products that are carbon-intensive and more challenging to recycle. For example, paper products were recycled at a rate of 68% in 2021; cardboard was recycled at a rate of 91.4%. Together, paper and cardboard were recycled at a rate of 76.6% and can be reused up to seven times. All other materials were recycled at a rate of just 23.4%.
The Maine Won’t Wait climate action plan recognizes the importance of wood products in the battle against climate change, citing the need to “advance the design and promote climate-friendly building products.” It also notes that “promoting innovative wood products will reduce greenhouse emissions while supporting economic development in Maine’s forest products sector.”
Maine’s forest products industry is rising to the challenge. Our paper mills are making substantial investments to produce more wood-based packaging. Multiple firms have announced plans to produce liquid fuels from wood, providing a renewable, Maine-made alternative to fossil fuels. In Madison, Timber HP will soon begin manufacturing wood-based insulation. Several colleges and universities are investing in mass timber construction to offset their carbon footprints. These are only a few examples of climate-driven innovation occurring in our sector.
Just letting trees grow without recognizing the increasing world demand for wood products and their climate benefits is like burying your head in the sand. Living in concrete houses without toilet paper and without all the jobs important to our rural communities is not my vision for the way life should be.
While carbon sequestration is undoubtedly an important co-benefit our forests provide, it is also of great importance to store that carbon in wood-based building products that offset our reliance on carbon-intensive, non-renewable materials like concrete, plastic and steel. Maine is a leader on this front. For that, we should all be very proud.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick Strauch, the executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, is a member of Gov. Mills’ Maine Climate Council.