RUMFORD – Panelists at Friday morning’s wood supply forum said that Maine’s supply will support current harvesting rates.

The problem, however, is determining how best to get wood from forests to meet rising competition for forest resources from a growing number of wood products’ industries at a time when paper mills are undergoing layoffs and closings.

Three panelists – Dave Struble, Sandra Brawders and John Williams – presented a variety of different perspectives about the issues. About 50 people attended the forum.

“Absolute supply is not the issue, we’ve got wood,” said Struble, director of the Maine Forest Service’s Forest Health and Monitoring Division.

Currently, Maine is growing 15 percent more wood than it’s harvesting.

“We’re growing it fine. It’s figuring out how to get it out that’s the issue,” he said.

Maine has untapped resources that can support an expanded industry, but any expansion must be economically competitive, Struble said.

“We can’t sacrifice our current industry until we have an industry to take its place,” Struble said.

Brawders, of Fort Kent and the Trust to Conserve Northeast Forestlands and Certified Professional Loggers, warned not to sacrifice the profession of logging.

She described it not as people entering the woods with chain saws, but rather as large companies harvesting large quantities of wood using multi-million dollar equipment.

“Without loggers, then the whole culture of Maine will shift,” Brawders said. “It will change so dramatically you won’t even recognize it.”

Fort Kent, like Rumford, she said, is trying to figure out how to reinvent itself without having a disaster while working to line up the old market to thus grow both new markets and good jobs.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen in this kind of economic time, and what are we going to do about biomass markets? Biomass is not a bad word,” Brawders said.

She said to view biomass as multiple products, specifically, cellulosic fuel, an economically viable alternative to corn ethanol and gasoline. Its byproduct is pulp.

Cellulose is the fiber that makes plants rigid. To get fuel from it, it must be broken down into simple sugars that can then be fermented into better biofuels than ethanol.

“That is going to be using wood products in a whole new way, and it’s the energy they’re talking about in Washington, D.C.,” Brawders said.

“So, the minute anybody comes to the Rumford area and is talking cellulosic fuel, you grab them, sit them down and make sure they have the best coffee, because you want to talk to them.”

She envisions the time when 12 products will come out of trees instead of one or two.

Williams, president of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association, spoke of the future of paper mills.

In the long term, he believes they’ll bounce back due to Maine’s trained work force and its great wood fiber supply.

“People think the paper industry is dying, but we’re making as much paper and more paper than ever before,” Williams said.

“We’re using just as much wood now for biomass as we are for pulp and paper production, and that’s never been true in the past.”

However, Williams said biomass and pellet wood won’t provide the multitude of jobs that paper companies do.

“Maine needs a robust system and alternatives like biomass, which is (currently) giving loggers a place to sell their wood to ensure a vibrant logging infrastructure,” he said.

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