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Mill Closure Prompts Maryland Focus on Forest Products

January 19th, 2020 by WCBC Radio

Photo of sawmill in operationThe Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the Maryland Department of Commerce, and other state agencies are working with partners across the state to direct grants, programs, and strategies for building new markets for Maryland’s forest products industry.  

Overall market decline and sudden losses such as the closure of the Verso paper mill in Luke have prompted action by the state to bolster markets for this important sector of Maryland’s natural resource economy. 

“Forests comprise Maryland’s largest category of land cover, and they are critical to our environmental and economic health,” Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said. “The forest products industry is a valued part of Maryland’s economy and a valued partner in renewable and sustainable management of our forests. In the face of changing times, we are working to find and develop new markets to keep the industry vibrant.”

Governor Larry Hogan recently announced the award of a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to the Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council to develop an Economic Adjustment Strategy for Maryland’s forest products sector. The federal funds will be matched by $150,000 in funds and in-kind contributions by the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources, Commerce, and Agriculture; the Maryland Agriculture and Resource Based Industries Development Corporation; and numerous other partners.

Currently in development, this strategy will serve as an action plan for countering the economic impact of numerous mill closures across the state of Maryland and for  strengthening our state’s forest industry. Once completed, the strategy will provide a roadmap for capitalizing on new opportunities in the forest industry, which will lead to the creation of jobs and businesses in designated Opportunity Zones throughout the region.

Another project funded by this grant is an effort by the Eastern Shore Regional GIS Cooperative (ESRGC) to develop an online, interactive, one-stop shop to help forest product operators find resources and opportunities.

Closely related to these efforts, the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund has provided money to three initiatives:

Through the Forest Markets Readjustment Project, the Maryland Forest Association and Association of Forest Industries will promote the Economic Adjustment Strategy and solicit input from industry stakeholders on how to redevelop forestry markets. Through field tours and listening sessions, stakeholders will help form a consensus on the best way to tap new, creative markets. 

The Western Maryland Woodyard Feasibility Study, led by Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council, will assess the potential for a centralized woodyard with a dedicated truck fleet. The idea is to create a local option for logging businesses to aggregate small volumes of wood in Western Maryland, while giving landowners the direct benefit of pulpwood procured from a local yard.

Advancing Fossil Free Biomass is an initiative being led by the Maryland Forestry Foundation and Maryland Clean Energy Center. Stakeholders will focus on the prospects and potential of wood-based renewable energy, a market that could further drive forest health management and restoration.

Anyone in the industry interested to learn more about these and other programs and initiatives should contact Daniel R. Rider, stewardship manager for the Maryland Forest Service at 410-260-8583 or Daniel.Rider@maryland.gov.

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