Strauch updates MFPC on workforce, economic recovery, climate change

FOR/Maine Workforce Development Survey

I want to give you a heads-up that some members will be hearing soon from Dr. Ryan Wallace, Director, Maine Center for Business and Economic Research, Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine. You may remember him from his  excellent presentation at MFPC’s 2019 annual meeting on A Workforce Overview of the Forest Product Sector in Maine.

Dr. Wallace has been commissioned to interview our members about their work force needs as part of the Forest Opportunity Roadmap (FOR/Me) effort. Developing a strategic plan for workforce development is one of our highest priorities.

Results from Dr. Wallace’s survey will define the industry’s current and future workforce needs and identify the skills and credentials the state should include as it seeks to modernize Maine’s career training programs. We also want to understand what workers now and in the future are looking for as we build outreach programs designed to attract young people into forest and wood manufacturing professions. This information will be used to build a public communications program that will attract workers now and build aspirations for young people who are seeking career paths.

The interviews are voluntary and any information collected during the interview process will be kept confidential, but it’s really important to get pretty high participation rate. So I hope you will participate. We appreciate the investment of your time that your organization will make in the survey that will   help shape the future of Maine’s forest industry.

Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee (ERC)

In response to the COVID crisis Governor Mills created the ERC seeking guidance from policy  and business leaders on how to recover Maine’s economy and link these efforts back to the Maine Economic Development Strategy 2020-2029.  Steve Schley of Pingree Associates and a long-time MFPC Board member, was tapped to represent the industry.

A draft report was released Wednesday, and the final report is scheduled on Dec. 1, 2020, for recommendations on sustainability and growth that bridge the COVID-19 response to the state’s 10-year economic development strategy released in 2019. In the most recent draft, the recommendations are divided into two major sections of Grow Maine’s Economy and Sustain Maine’s People.  

Within the recommendations are important references to forestry’s role in diversifying the bioeconomy as illustrated by these draft quotes:

“Developing these focus areas and the opportunities afforded at their intersections will enable Maine to add significantly more value to its natural resources and reimagine and reposition its heritage industries to future growth.”

“Maine has an opportunity to advance industry-led, public-private initiatives that grow key innovation sectors, such as seafood and agricultural product processing, forest products, bioproducts and renewable energy, and agile manufacturing.”

 Steve’s successful efforts in representing our interests as a forestry community are greatly appreciated.

Governor’s Climate Change Council (CCC)

I’ve been participating as an appointed member of the CCC as this report is also nearing completion and presentation to the Governor for inclusion in her legislative agenda.  From the perspective of greatest opportunities to reduce fossil-based carbon emissions focus was centered on the transportation and home heating sectors and focused on solutions that highlight electric vehicles and heat pumps among many other ideas.

The  sequestration potential of our forests was also acknowledged. The CCC Technical Committee’s work on forest sequestration calculates that over 55 percent of the state’s emissions are offset by forest sequestration, with an additional 15 percent captured in durable forest products, which was calculated by University of Maine scientists. It looks like about 70 percent of Maine’s emissions are offset by sequestration in our forests, so our industry will play a prominent role going forward. Additional draft recommendations that are related to forestry include:

  • By 2024, local biofuel and biodiesel production will increase  
  • Develop and enhance innovation support, incentives, building codes, and marketing programs to increase the use of efficient and climate-friendly Maine forest products, including mass timber and wood fiber insulation.
  • Launch an Industrial Task Force to collaboratively partner with industry and stakeholders to consider innovations and incentives to manage industrial emissions through 2030 and reduce total emissions by 2050.
  • By 2030, increase the total acreage of conserved lands in the state to 30 percent through voluntary, focused purchases of land and working forest or farm conservation easements (staff will add estimate of additional acres to meet 30 percent of land area– number being fact checked).
  • Grow Maine’s forest products industry, through bioproduct innovation, meeting goals for industry growth and sustainable forest management
  • By 2023, the Maine DEP will conduct a comprehensive, state-wide inventory of carbon stocks on land and in coastal areas to provide baseline estimates for state carbon sequestration, allowing monitoring of sequestration over time to meet the state’s carbon neutrality goal
  • By 2022, Maine will establish a stakeholder process to develop a voluntary, incentive-based forest carbon program (practice and/or inventory based) for woodland owners of 10 to 10,000 acres and forest practitioners
  • By 2024, increase technical service provider capacity within the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Maine Forest Service, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Department of Marine Resources
  • Develop and implement updated land use regulations, laws, and practices in order to enhance community resilience to flooding and other climate impacts by 2024. 

I think the industry is recognized as  an important player in climate change, But we’ll need to remind people that healthy actively managed forests require  markets, and policies that support our industry.