Foresters, loggers ask state for help
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland’s forestry and logging communities play a critical role in the state’s environmental health and buttress its rural economy, members of both industries told a state House committee this month.
Nearly nine months after suffering a serious blow when Allegany County’s century-old Verso paper mill closed, loggers and foresters said both industries continue to struggle with the lost pulpwood market, which supported forestry efforts across the state.
Several speakers reiterated to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Jan. 16 an urgent need to replace that market.
“We are blessed to have forests in Maryland, especially the hardwood forests that regenerate on their own,” said Rusty Leonard, a West Virginia forester who works across Western Maryland. “What we need is a new pulpwood market or a new low-grade market for biomass in our region.”
In addition to a forthcoming study on the Maryland forestry industry’s future, the state government has received two grants to address market concerns, said Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, secretary of the department of natural resources. One is being used to study the potential of a centralized wood yard to aggregate product from around the region for export to foreign markets. Another will pay for a study into the feasibility of wood as an alternative energy source.
Maryland loggers and foresters, some of whom have gone out of business since the May shuttering of the Verso mill, have been advocating for both a wood yard and the state’s embrace of wood energy since the closure. Wood energy is an important tool in carbon management, Haddaway-Riccio said, and the European Union is increasing its commitment to it. The state, with the assistance of the USDA, has been meeting with people behind two potential energy projects in Maryland, she said.
“This will definitely help us advance wood as a renewable energy source,” she said.
The committee also heard from a panel of forestry and environmental experts, including Jonathan Kays, a University of Maryland Extension agent, and Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. The state must do a better job of educating taxpayers who often don’t understand the environmental necessity of forestry and the value of wood as a sustainable energy source in Maryland, Kays said.
“Not using wood is basically lost economic development,” he said.
Well-managed forests, which act as “nature’s sponge,” are also critical to the Bay’s health, Swanson said. One hundred trees can absorb millions of gallons of rainwater that would otherwise flow into and pollute the Bay, she said. It also takes about 100 trees to absorb a year’s worth of carbon dioxide from one Maryland household, which produces on average about 68,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, Swanson said. There are about 2 million households in the state.
The hardwood industry also contributes about $22 billion to the regional economy around the Bay, she said.
“We’re talking about enormous amounts of money and with it enormous amounts of jobs,” Swanson said.
Logging and forestry management also incentivize landowners to keep their land undeveloped, said Beth Hill, executive director the Maryland Forests Association.
“Without markets, the woodland is much more prone to land use change and fragmentation,” she said. “Everyone knows that it’s OK to plant trees. That’s a good thing, but not everyone understands that it’s OK to harvest them.”
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