Forest industries are not just the mill – their impact reaches well into the woods, and they support the land and people that supply them with wood. We know this, but it enters the public’s mind when a mill closes or otherwise stops taking wood. Recent examples of this include a Boston Globe article on the impact of the digester explosion at the pulp and paper mill in Jay, Maine, and an article about the industry-wide impact of the mill closure in Wisconsin Rapids. I am sure you can think of examples from your region.
While this is true when a mill closes, it is just as true when a mill opens, expands, or continues operations. Forest industries provide markets and incentives for landowners to grow timber sustainably; they provide employment for foresters, loggers, and truckers; and they provide finished products and residuals that are the raw material for allied industries. There are positive economic and environmental impacts from the woods to the final consumer – measured in jobs, clean water, carbon sequestration, renewable material, and more.
As an industry, we can do a better job of telling this story. It is obvious in mill towns that a mill is important, but it is just as important to landowners, loggers, truckers, and others over a hundred miles away. I have been in Northern Vermont and Central Massachusetts, watching wood get loaded onto a truck to head to Maine – two states away. The local loggers and landowners in those regions are a key part of the industry supply chain, but it is so far away – both geographically and politically – that it is easy to forget how connected these individuals are to the success of the mill.
I have seen some creative ways to share this information. At a Tree Farm I visited last year, the owner handed me a page showing where the wood went from his most recent harvest – a total of eleven sawmills, pulp mills, and biomass plants. I know a mill that publishes a map each year showing every zip code it purchased wood from in the last year – it is always interesting to see how far away the distant dots are.
One easy thing to do is access FRA’s new graphic that shows the connectivity and complexity of the supply chain. Use this as a start of a discussion with suppliers, customers, policymakers, and town officials on where your activity is in the supply chain, and how far it reaches both up and down. Do town officials in Central Massachusetts know that the private forests in their town rely on paper mills in Maine, and do town officials in Maine know that their local mill relies on markets across the world?
As an industry, we have a great story to tell. We need to remember to tell it in the good times, as well as the bad.