Industry: Md. foresters, loggers need stronger voice
La PLATA, Md. — To rebuild Maryland’s forest products industry, loggers and foresters need to better lobby the state government and convince it to support wood as an energy source, industry leaders said last week.
If local governments and the state embraced the benefits of wood energy, it could buttress a forest products industry that’s suffered several brutal blows this year, including the May closure of one of the region’s largest pulpwood buyers, industry supporters said at an Oct. 10 gathering organized by the Maryland Forests Association.
“Maryland likes to think of itself as progressive, but in the field of wood energy we’re woefully behind,” said Jonathan Kays, a University of Maryland Extension agent, to the group at a Charles County tree farm.
The association, which represents landowners, foresters and loggers, held the meeting as part of a series across the state to motivate and organize an industry that leaders said could be more proactive about promoting itself before legislators in Annapolis.
“We need to strengthen the ranks, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Bill Miles, lobbyist at the Association of Forest Industries in Calvert County.
Kays said the state could benefit from building more wood energy plants like the one it’s set to remove at Eastern Correctional Institution, a Somerset County prison, which will be powered by natural gas. Kays is part of the Maryland Wood Energy Coalition, formed in 2010, which promotes wood as an environmentally friendly and sustainable source of energy.
The state should create a thermal energy credit system that would encourage the use of wood as an energy source, he said. It should also build small- to medium-sized wood energy plants to power institutions such as schools, government buildings and businesses. But wood energy supporters continue to battle a bias in the environmental lobby and the state government, he said.
“A lot of people don’t like things burned,” Kays said. “They don’t think it’s carbon neutral.”
Maryland woodlands produce nearly three times more wood than is harvested, according to a coalition statement, and newer wood stoves and biomass boilers produce low emissions and compare favorably to fossil fuels.
Those woodlands, a natural filter, are also critical to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and the best way to preserve that land is to practice good forest management, said Craig Highfield, director of the forest program at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a local environmental organization. Environmentalism can be compatible with forestry and logging, he said.
“They can go hand in hand,” Highfield said. “It doesn’t need to be at odds with anything.”
To achieve these goals, the industry will have to do a better job lobbying, Miles said — like the agricultural community.
“Unlike the forestry industry, the ag community is so much better organized,” he said.
Miles and other industry leaders were caught by surprise earlier this year when they discovered the state was removing the 32-year-old wood boiler at Eastern Correctional Institution. The prison, which consumes about 55,000 tons of wood chips a year, was a critical buyer from Eastern Shore loggers. Miles said he was shocked to discover the state had been discussing the change for two years.
“When we did know about it, we did everything,” he said. “We begged and pleaded.”
Miles and Beth Hill, executive director of the Maryland Forests Association, have been lobbying the governor’s office to build a new wood-burning power plant elsewhere on the Shore to make up for the lost prison market, but so far, the state has not come forward with any plans.
Over the last several months, loggers and foresters across the state have occasionally criticized the lack of lobbying on behalf of their industry. Miles admitted the Association of Forest Industries is “barely alive”.
“I’ve been in the business 15 years, and I’ve never heard of it,” said Robert Beale, a St. Mary’s County logger.
“Fair enough,” Miles said.
Foresters and loggers have also struggled recently with the May closure of the Verso paper plant in Allegany County, Md. The plant was one of the region’s largest buyers of pulpwood, and its shuttering has hurt an unknown number of loggers and forestry projects across the state and region. Dorchester Lumber Co., a pine sawmill in Linkwood, closed in April.
Ten years ago, the regional industry had five markets, said Dan Rider, stewardship manager at the Maryland Forest Service. Now, it’s down to one: Pixelle, a Pennsylvania paper company.
“That’s not a good trend,” he said.
The forest service is building a list of ideas to help the industry over the next year, Rider said. It’s also helped a western Maryland nonprofit apply for a federal grant to create an economic strategy that would guide and strengthen the industry over the next several years.
Miles implored foresters and loggers to be ready to organize.
“If we call you because we need you… you’ve got to step up,” he said.
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