Building a Local Wood Movement

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The forests of Maine are unquestionably one of our State’s most important assets, providing wildlife habitat, jobs, wood products, water quality protection, and recreational opportunities.  To many, these woodlands are the landscape that best represents Maine.

Ensuring that these lands stay forested and continue to provide so many benefits is a goal that many widely diverse groups and individuals share.  The alternatives to thoughtful planning and management – scattered development, fragmentation, and a loss of access – are undesirable outcomes for many, no matter what their connection to the Maine woods.

 Photo: Pam Wells

Photo: Pam Wells

Many of the groups that I have worked with, Maine’s 90 land trusts, have purchased forestland or used conservation easements to keep these lands undeveloped.  The Forest Society of Maine has had great success in working with owners of larger tracts of forestland, and smaller land trusts are doing what they canPhoto Credit: Pam Wells to conserve Maine’s forest.  But the money and time it takes to do this conservation work, especially for the smaller groups, means their normal conservation tools may not make a big “dent” relative to the size of Maine’s forested landscape.

As a result some groups are also looking at additional ways to ensure that Maine’s forests remain intact.  One idea, following on the local food movement that is gaining traction in Maine, focuses on promoting greater markets for wood grown in Maine.  If there were a higher demand for sustainably harvested Maine wood from homeowners, craftspeople and others, landowners might be able to count on a larger and more regular revenue stream from their harvested timber than currently exists.  Ideally this would give landowners and their heirs more options than selling off their forestland.

In addition, many believe that wood harvested for a local market will result in people caring more about the manner in which the forests are harvested.  More people might be more interested in supporting local forestry if they see it as part of the community’s livelihood – but especially if it’s clear that water, wildlife habitat, recreation, and scenery are also part of the equation.

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As an example, a recent unpublished study, by Ken Lausten of the Maine Forest Service and Theresa Kerchner of the Kennebec Land Trust, of Kennebec County’s 608,000 acres looked at the wood supply available in Kennebec County and the potential for sustainable forestry as well as additional permanent "forever wild" land conservation. Their study noted that there are 374,000 acres of forestland with 7.2 million merchantable cords of various species in Kennebec County (2011 U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis data). The county’s timber resources are concentrated in three species: eastern white pine, northern red oak, and red maple.  The report’s authors noted that while not all local demand for wood products and fuelwood could be met by these forest resources, there is potential for new sustainable wood product markets that could engage residents with forestland conservation and sustainable timber harvesting in their communities.

According to the authors, "The Kennebec County study also underscored two critical points: New England’s forests are changing parcel by parcel with the decisions of individual landowners; and the underlying threat to woodlands in the northeast is neither sustainable forest management nor permanent land conservation, but rather the permanent conversion of forestland to commercial and residential development."[1]

Spurred on by the energy within the Kennebec Land Trust, and with funding from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, a diverse group of partners is planning the first gathering to promote this idea of a local wood movement in Maine.  The Local Wood Works conference will be held on November 14th at the Augusta Civic Center. 

This conference is an opportunity for landowners, foresters, loggers, processors, wood-based businesses, state agencies, conservation organizations, artisans, students, and forest & wood products enthusiasts to connect, learn and propel Maine’s local wood economy into a more sustainable future. 

For more information about the Local Wood Works conference, see http://www.tklt.org/lwwhome.  For a list of the land trusts in Maine, look here:  or contact Warren Whitney at wwhitney@mcht.org for more information.

Warren Whitney, Land Trust Program Manager

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

 

 

Warren Whitney is the Land Trust Program Manager at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, and works to bring a variety of communications, training, networking, capacity building and other services to Maine’s land trust community.   He began his career in the GIS world, joined the Board of his local land trust, and eventually became the Executive Director of that small land trust.  After working out of the spare bed room of his house for a few years he joined MCHT, where has been for the past 12 years.  

 

[1] Laustsen, Ken and Kerchner, Theresa; Forestland Conservation: A case study in sustainable forest management, local wood production, and land conservation, unpublished, July, 2013)