AUGUSTA – The Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine today commended an effort to mobilize federal resources to address the ongoing crisis in Maine’s forest products economy that is hurting the state’s loggers and threatening the long term health of their industry.
Maine’s U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, along with 2nd District Congressman Bruce Poliquin have called on the U.S. Department of Commerce to take immediate action to bolster Maine’s forest-based economy in the wake of mill closures that have left communities in rural portions of the state in the midst of an economic crisis.
In March, Maine’s Senators began urging the Department to establish and lead an integrated, multi-agency Economic Development Assessment Team (EDAT) focused on Maine’s forest based economy that would leverage the power of multiple federal government agencies and harness stakeholder input to create economic development strategies to pave the way for job growth for rural Maine communities in the years to come. Congressman Poliquin joined in this effort and together with a team of industry and state stakeholders, a group has been working together to establish a list of priorities that the state could benefit from if the federal government did decide to put boots on the ground.
Today, the Commerce Department responded with an announcement that it will mobilize multiple federal agencies for the task, and the PLC strongly supports that decision and has pledged to assist the effort in every way possible.
“Maine loggers applaud this effort to move past the challenges of the last few years and bring all available federal resources to bear on the crisis facing Maine’s forest products industry and the communities and workers who depend on it, including thousands of professional loggers.” PLC Executive Director Dana Doran, said. “Maine is the most heavily forested state in the Northeast and has a logging workforce second to none, and that is a foundation on which we can build any future we choose if we work together and plan together for it. We commend Senators King and Collins and Congressman Poliquin for their work to mobilize federal support for the industry, and the Commerce Department for the decision to respond.”
Slow but steady losses in Maine’s forest products industry have been reducing the population and economy of rural Maine for the past twenty years. Lately, this crisis has accelerated and is threatening the very nature of the state’s rural communities and culture.
In the past eight months alone Maine has suffered the closure or shutdown of three pulp and paper mills, four pellet mills and two biomass electric facilities. For loggers, the effects of this have been sudden and severe, resulting in job losses and closures for those in the hardest hit areas, and revenue losses for all.
These challenges have come as loggers are facing other hurdles including steep increases in equipment costs and a mild winter that frequently left the ground too soft for timber harvesting.
Despite these obstacles, logging is an industry with a proud heritage in Maine that has provided good jobs to generations of Mainers while adapting its technology and practices to become an example to the rest of the nation, and its future could be a bright one: With more forested land today than it had in the 1950s, Maine could become a leader in the global forest products industry, but the state must create a business environment favorable for that industry while undertaking the kind of long-term planning for success that has so far been lacking to bring new ideas and new markets to fruition.
The PLC has been closely involved in the delegation’s efforts to mobilize federal resources to address the current crisis and will be working together with other stakeholders in the state’s forest products industry to support the work of the federal assessment team.