The front page of the fall 2020 Branching Out newsletter highlighted a “Vision for the Forest Industry,” and the trends highlighted over the past few years were very discouraging. The Maryland forest industry experienced the closure of major sawmills, the closure of the Verso Pulp Mill in western Maryland with 675 direct jobs in June 2019, the closure of the Port of Baltimore for exporting logs, and other disappointing trends. However, the forest industry and many partners have come together over the last few years to change the narrative. A major step forward was the collaboration of state agencies and allied non-governmental organizations to develop an Economic Adjustment Strategy (EAS) for countering the economic impact of recent forest industry closures, such as Verso, and for securing the future of Maryland’s forest industry. The information and momentum gained from this effort is making a difference and it is starting to show with real results.
How does this affect woodland owners? Big time! Private woodland owners own 74% of woodlands in the state and without markets forest management cannot take place. Sawmills, biomass, exports, and other markets create the demand so that landowners can sell timber and implement woodland practices that helps enhance forest health, wildlife, and provide income.
The summary document of the Economic Adjustment Strategy (EAS) for Maryland’s Forest Products Sector was just released in advance of the full EAS report expected later this summer. This summary document provides an overview of the key opportunities within the forest products sector that the project team has identified over the course of the project, as well as a list of nine initiatives with 53 immediate actions that are recommended for implementation. There have been a lot of positive developments in Maryland’s forest products sector since its low point of the Luke mill closure. These are provided below.
- The Luke mill site in western Maryland has an experienced wood & mining business wending its way through a purchase agreement with mill owner, Verso.
- The Cropper Brothers Lumber mill in Wicomico County has reopened as Delmarva Lumber.
- A wholly new business is opening in Somerset to make poles from pines currently limited to pulpwood markets. This is a classic example of value-added resource utilization, bringing an output multiplier of probably 5x to the region, and creating new jobs, not just moving them around in the labor market.
- The Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO) distributed $750k in pandemic relief funds to 21 forest product businesses. Almost $2M in requests came in, and that without much marketing of the grant program.
- A new product known as Thermally Modified Wood, a rot-proof wood made without chemical treatment, is creating some interest in the state.
- Anecdotal evidence indicates reinvestment in sawmills is strong and it appears to be occurring at every mill.
- Loggers contacted in a Woodyard Study indicated that 44% want to expand. Even with the aftermath of closing of the Luke facility they see the future and want to prepare.
- There is more business growth/reinvestment that is forthcoming.
Examples of a few more efforts:
- Susan O’Neill with the Upper Shore Regional Council has a project developing an environmentally benign alternative to treating logs with methyl bromide. This could reopen Europe to the log export market, which was lost when the Port of Baltimore ceased using methyl bromide, which was a $10M/year market.
- The Maryland Forests Association has a number of campaigns underway, creating and keeping awareness about how forest markets drive good forestry.
- Wood energy is once again a topic of discussion among both legislative and executive leaders in the State. US Forest Service awarded $250k grant to support the development of the wood energy market, and will fund a wood energy specialist at the MD Clean Energy Center.
Clearly, Maryland’s forest industry is drawing attention from a variety of sectors across the state. Through hard work from both public and private sectors, the Maryland forest industry is making a comeback.