Is wood chipping behind the jump in logging jobs?
The growth of logging jobs in southern Maine – which has just been documented in a new report – is catching almost everyone by surprise.
Logging jobs in southern Maine jumped by 37 percent between 2005 and 2013, according to Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine. That rate far outstrips the growth rate for manufacturing, health care and other major employment sectors in the region, according to the report prepared for Mobilize Maine.
The author of the study has no idea what’s behind the increase.
“I know logging is crucial to Maine. I expected it in northern Maine and western Maine, but I didn’t expect it to pop out in southern Maine,” said Ryan Wallace, author of “Cluster trends and opportunities n Southern Maine.” Wallace notes that logging is a small sector and the total job growth of 45 new jobs brings the total logging jobs in the region to just 164. Still, he noted. “It’s not just a couple of small firms.. It’s something of a critical mass.” Wallace said the numbers beg further study but at this time he is “careful not to draw conclusions.”
A key player in the local woods economy thinks he has an explanation for the increase in logging jobs.
“What’s going on is there are more chipper crews coming on line,” said Terry Walters, manager of the Pleasant River Pine sawmill in Sanford. “These mechanized operations need a tremendous volume of wood. And all this equipment needs operators and truck drivers. I’ll bet the volume of wood harvested is up.”
Mechanized harvesting – which involves far larger and more equipment than conventional harvesting with a chain saw and a skidder – has a mixed effect on the character of the woods, he said. More low quality trees and tree tops are consumed as chips, which can provide space for higher quality trees to flourish, he said. On the other hand, harvests typically leave the woods barer looking and with wider roads and log landings. “It’s a different kind of harvest,” said Walters. “Usually, it’s a heavier harvest.”Category: woodworking
Maine Forest Service reports have shown that for some time Southern Maine Forests have had an increasing timber inventory. Logging capacity follows demand and available wood supply. A new large plant in Berlin NH is drawing biomass fuel, whole tree chips, in that direction. That means established plants have to draw more of their whole tree chips from local areas. Firewood markets have been strong over the last several years using 1,000’s of cords annually. A new market for low grade hardwood logs sawn to produce construction mats is using millions of board feet of low to medium grade hardwood logs annually. The slowly improving economy has resulted in better markets for established mills that buy logs. Several have made investments increasing the amount of wood they are using and buying. Several log buying yards have been established where brokers buy logs and ship them all over the northeast. Delivered prices of pulpwood results in it being trucked to more distant mills. All together it’s not surprising demand for and production of wood from southern Maine is up quite a lot.
Over the last 30 years mechanical harvesting has become a way of life for landowners, foresters and timber harvesters. The equipment is big and harvests wood quickly. As with anything, mechanical harvesting brings good and bad. It is a much safer way of logging. It is more efficient. It makes it possible to harvest trees that were too small for a someone using a chain saw to harvest profitably. If those small trees are suppressed low grade stems it gives foresters and landowners a way of removing them from the forest at a profit.
On the other hand the equipment is big and heavy. Soils and residual trees can be severely damaged. If the small trees that are harvested are growing stock, harvesting them destroys the potential of the future forest. The pressure to produce results in some operators not utilizing trees for their highest and best use. They often get more loads the more they chip not slowing down to saw out round wood which doesn’t come easy. That reduces a landowners’ income.
What the foresters at this company have found is that marking which trees are to be cut in a way mechanical equipment can access them, and the lay out of skidder trails on which those trees will be removed, has become critical to achieving the results we and our clients want on their land. In addition selling trees to be harvested for a lump sum amount or to contractors who are known for good utilization assures landowners get full value for trees that are sold. I am biased but landowners are smart to hire good foresters whose fiduciary duty is to the landowner.
Two interesting observations. I wonder how this expansion and shift further towards quantity (with some negative impacts to quality) will be accepted by landowners in southern Maine which tend to have small holdings and often include other priorities in why they own their forestlands. A lack of alternatives to this approach to harvesting could cause owners to stop managing / harvesting their woodlands. In the long run, any loss of incentive could lead to further losses of forest cover and declines of its benefits to our communities.