Nonprofit seeks to study Md.’s declining forestry industry with federal grant
HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A western Maryland nonprofit has applied for a federal grant to study — and, hopefully, improve — the state’s declining forest products industry.
With help from the state government, the Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council in Hagerstown recently applied for a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to pay for an “economic adjustment strategy” to be produced by a hired consultant, said Dan Rider, stewardship manager for the state’s forest service.
The grant would develop a plan to strengthen the forest products industry in Maryland over the next five to 20 years, he said.
“We want to create a vision for what we believe a sustainable forest products industry should look like,” he said. “It’s a plan, not a solution.”
If the council receives the grant, several state agencies, including the agriculture department, and industry groups have pledged to match it with $100,000 in additional cash and $50,000 in kind.
The council helps protect and develop economic, natural and social resources in the region.
Several sawmills on the Eastern Shore have closed over the last two decades, and the forestry industry was rocked last month when the Verso Corp. announced it was shuttering its 131-year-old paper mill in Allegany County. The mill was one of the state’s largest buyers of roundwood and wood chips, and its closure is a massive blow to the regional economy. It’s expected to hamper forestry efforts across the state and put an unknown number of loggers out of business.
The state is also in the process of shutting down a wood-burning power plant at Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County to connect the prison to natural gas — a move that would eliminate a significant buyer of wood chips on the Shore. Forestry advocates have asked the state to build another wood-burning plant elsewhere.
Though some regions haven’t benefitted from economic adjustment strategies, states such as Maine and Vermont used them to rebuild to own forest product industries, Rider said.
“What this plan does is enables us to find solutions in a very thoughtful, strategic, organized way instead of running around waving our hands in the air and grasping at everything that comes down the pike,” he said.
Rider said he expects the commerce department to decide on the proposal by the end of the month.
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