Resources and Tools
by Daniel Rosen, AICP, Resource Conservation Planner, and Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner
Many might be surprised to learn, despite the state’s diminutive size, that wood and wood/forest products are big business in Maryland.
In 2016, according to one measure, the forest products sector contributed 16,500 jobs and $3.86 billion to the Maryland economy (EAS Summary, page 2).
Paradoxically, forestry—the harvesting of trees and manufacture of wood products—also promotes conservation by showing landowners that growing trees is an economically viable alternative to development.
Unfortunately, forestry has been declining in Maryland in recent years. The closing of the 131-year-old Luke paper mill in Allegany County in 2019, with its loss of 675 jobs, shows the cost of this downward trend to rural Maryland communities.
In response, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council (WMRC&D) commissioned consultants from ACDS, LLC, to develop an Economic Adjustment Strategy (EAS) for the forestry industry. The EAS is a plan that will serve as a recovery roadmap for Maryland’s forest products industry. Funding for the EAS was provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources, Commerce, and Agriculture, and other partners.
A summary of the EAS published in May revealed that:
- Maryland contains 2,115,000 acres of forest, which hold 5.67 billion cubic feet (bcf) of timber.
- The key tree species are yellow poplar, pines, oaks, maple, and sweetgum.
- Timber is used for sawlogs (40%) and pulpwood (60%).
- Maryland is home to 1,065 forestry-related firms; 14,833 private owners possess forestland greater than 10 acres.
Additionally, the EAS identified current industry trends across the state, including: a growing inventory of timber; an increase in tree size; an increase in high-grade saw timber; and an overstock of small diameter trees as well as declining harvests, even while opportunities for harvests are increasing.
The EAS analysis evaluated the standing timber resource across the state and within specific timbersheds. It researched historic and current challenges facing the forestry sector, as well as opportunities to rebuild and modernize the state’s forest products industry. A profile of each of the state’s regions is included in the plan.
Relying on public input, the EAS found that although “the statewide wood products industry is large and disaggregated,” participants in all aspects of it share common goals:
- Support existing entrepreneurs who anchor the industry and keep liquidity in local markets.
- Raise awareness of the wood products industry by building more supportive relationships within and outside the industry and focusing on the resource’s renewable nature.
- Enhance local and international market opportunities by building a brand linked to the industry’s stewardship of natural resources and local economies.
- Encourage innovation in emerging sectors through entrepreneurial support, and a renewed focus on technology commercialization–which means helping to usher new products and techniques to market more quickly, such as those developed at a university, by the USDA, or another research entity, so that those in the industry can use them sooner.
In terms of this last goal, opportunities exist in western Maryland to augment research and development (R&D) efforts and foster connections with other innovators around the state who are developing advanced materials from wood. For example, this includes those that are transparent, or have insulating properties, or that are extremely strong, yet lightweight.
The EAS has laid out nine initiatives and 53 actions to implement the goals. The nine initiatives are: (1) Increase knowledge of the public and policy makers about the forest products industry; (2) Foster a more supportive state and local policy environment; (3) Improve supply-chain coordination; (4) Expand use of renewable biomass energy; (5) Enhance Maryland forest product industry’s export competitiveness; (6) Support entrepreneurial success for wood products businesses; (7) Improve the adoption of new technology and innovative practices; (8) Expand domestic marketing opportunities; and (9) Create a workforce for the future.
This EAS is of particular interest to the Maryland Department of Planning because resource conservation staff are working with DNR to create a Model Forestry Ordinance. Currently, municipal and county ordinances, as they apply to forestry and related businesses, are often incomplete and vary widely in their definitions of forestry-related products and processes, and yet opportunities exist to expand forestry operations and the production of wood-related items, as well as increase the number of locations for these businesses throughout the state.
For more information, you can access the document via the University of Maryland Extension or Western Maryland Resource Conservation and Development Council’s website.