Land trusts stepping up to support local wood economies

For most of 2016 I helped author a document identifying ways that the land trust and non-profit community could help conserve Maine’s unique places, working forests, and rural communities. Funding was provided by the Elmina B Sewall Foundation and below is a summary of that effort, though the full report may be viewed at

Maine’s woods are vast — its advocates, landowners, hikers, loggers, mill workers, regulators, and foresters have worked for generations to sustain their families and communities from its bounty. Since 2013, a time when five of Maine’s 10 pulp mills have closed, Local Wood WORKS (LWW) partners1 have been collaboratively working to keep Maine’s forests as forests and to support rural communities. LWW partners feel an obligation to contribute to these communities, by promoting the value of undeveloped forests and fields in making towns vibrant and livable, along with rewarding employment, good schools, and active civic discourse. A reinvigorated local Maine forest products industry can go a long way to serving both ends. Thus, LWW partners are committed to promoting greater use of locally-sourced and value-added wood, as an efficient heating alternative to fossil fuels, a light-weight and strong construction alternative to energy-intensive concrete and steel, and a means to sustain a diverse and ecologically-rich forested landscape. Wood, of course, is also esthetically pleasing, indelibly linked to our colonial and industrial pasts, and a simple means to capture carbon dioxide, store it for generations, and thus help combat climate change.

Specifically, the Local Wood WORKS partnership supports and has prioritized the following initiatives.

1. Create a Coalition of Local Wood Heat.
2. Promote greater use of wood in buildings and consumer goods.
3. Develop and promote locally-preferred procurement policies for governments, businesses, non-profits, and individuals.
4. Support the permanent conservation of working woodlands and ecological reserves.
5. Maintain and promote Maine’s current-use taxation programs.
6. Promote business management education and training within the forest products industry.

We arrived at these ideas after hosting numerous listening sessions around the State, with builders and architects, mill owners and land managers, loggers and foresters, and energy and conservation advocates. We heard wide-ranging policy suggestions but narrowed our focus to those strategies that LWW members believe will best support Maine’s rural economies and a conservation ethic. However we also recognize that our organizations have limited ability to meaningfully influence the business practices of large manufacturers, given the national and global marketing strategies, federal tax and ownership policies, and sophisticated investment necessities that buttress and undergird those economies. Our six initiatives focus instead on smaller, more local opportunities, and in so doing strive to broaden the diversity of forest product manufacturers.

This document is intended to be action-oriented while also suggesting more long-term opportunities. However, this paper, which was vetted by many of the listening session participants, is intended only as a first step leading to an amplified, well vetted, and much more specific action plan, to be completed in 2017, which will include short and long-term ways of accomplishing the above initiatives, including funding options, and necessary policy recommendations.