Good reasons for optimism about forest economy

LMark's column sig_Page_4ooking at all the information in Maine’s Forest Economy, which pulls together new economic impact figures from the University of Maine as well as a wealth of other data, I can’t help being proud and optimistic. First, however, I must thank Dr. Todd Gabe, University of Maine School of Economics, for his research; Dr. Robert Wagner, director of the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests and the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit, for making forest facts understandable to those outside our industry, and the Maine Forest Service, especially Ken Laustsen, for helping compile and check the information in Maine’s Forest Economy, including the industry at a glance chart below. MFPC cover for webWe hope it’s useful to those who care about our forests and we’ll update as new information becomes available. As Maine gradually emerges from an extended and very difficult economic downturn, I believe the state’s forest product industry is well positioned to benefit, as is the Maine economy. Here are some of the forest economy facts and figures that stand out most strongly for me:

  • The amount of forestland today is an astounding 97 percent of the pre-settlement forestland in 1600 – and with a much higher population.
  • The ownership of Maine’s forest has changed, but by and large, the use as forestland has been constant.
  • Maine leads the nation with 9.4 million acres of forestland that’s certified as sustainably managed by the major sustainability certification bodies (SFI, ATFS, FSC), assuring the people of Maine that we can sustainably grow and harvest trees while protecting water quality, wildlife and so much more.
  • Conservation easements covering 2.1 million acres of Maine’s working forest are further assurance of well-managed forests continuing into the future.
  • For the past 22 years, Maine has harvested on average 6.7 million cords each year, and since 2008 growth exceeds our harvest.
  • Maine’s merchantable inventory today is nearly twice as much as it was in 1953, and continues to increase.
  • Though the industry has fewer jobs today, those jobs are safer, utilize more technology and pay an average wage 33 percent higher than the state average.
  • Our aging workforce means good-paying, high-tech jobs are coming soon for you or your children.
  • New uses of wood and wood bioproducts will expand our industry’s economic contribution.
  • Research shows that managed forests are carbon friendly, including a 2013 University of New Brunswick study (A Comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Balance for a Forest Company Operating in Northeast North America) on J. D. Irving’s carbon dynamics.

So what do we need to insure Maine’s forest economy continues to thrive? Here are a few ideas:

  • Provide incentives for expanding the manufacturing base, because a strong manufacturing sector provides outlets for wood, which preserves forests.
  • Expand value-added processing in Maine to enhance job growth and the overall economy.
  • Increase primary and secondary processing mills.
  • Protect the most effective conservation program in the state, the Tree Growth tax program.
  • Enhance the image of forest sector jobs and increase training and educational opportunities.

Each forest sector has its own unique opportunities and challenges, but the potential exists to strengthen our industry as is being done in Canada and other states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota.  All the elements are within reach to build a stronger forest economy. The entrepreneurial spirit of those in our industry already is capitalizing on opportunities, but we need help.  State, federal and local officials can help by creating an environment where companies are encouraged to invest capital  and not discouraged by an unpredictable regulatory climate. The people of Maine can help by understanding that Maine’s forests are healthy. Those of us who work in the forests products industry believe our future is bright. We hope this book helps everyone understand our optimism. Maine forest industry at a glance