It is no secret that these are difficult times for Maine’s paper industry, with the recent news of potential mill closures in Lincoln and Old Town sending ripples of unease through the state’s forest products sector and beyond.
While the pain of those mill closings would be felt most keenly by the paper workers affected and the communities of Lincoln and Old Town, the indirect effects could hurt one industry more than any other: Maine loggers.
There have been a number of reasons provided for why these changes are taking place: energy, taxes, trade and the cost of wood. All are daunting challenges, but all can be tackled with collaboration, fortitude and leadership.
Loggers are generally seen as a primary factor for why wood costs in Maine are higher than in other areas of the country. But this really isn’t the case. The rates loggers are paid to deliver wood from stump to roadside have largely remained the same for the past 15 years. Meanwhile, the costs associated with the logging process — fuel, equipment, parts, insurance — have increased exponentially. Yes, wood costs have increased, but it’s important to note that loggers aren’t responsible for this and, in fact, have been marginalized in the process. Just as mills have struggled to manage their rising expenses, so have loggers, and loggers are certainly not getting rich in the process — many are struggling.
Adding further evidence to the challenges that loggers face, the Eastern Maine Development Corporation commissioned an economic impact analysis to determine the direct and indirect effects of job losses associated with potential mill closures over a four-county region: Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock and Waldo counties.
In addition to the 195 jobs associated with the Old Town Expera Specialty Solutions pulp mill and the 179 jobs associated with Lincoln Paper and Tissue, the study concluded more than 560 additional jobs throughout the economy could be lost as a result of those two mills’ closure. The study also concluded that the industry hit hardest by these indirect losses would be logging, with an estimated 56 jobs lost in the four-county region.
This would be a major blow to an important and traditional state industry. Maine’s loggers are a hard-working and independent but tightly knit group of small- and medium-sized businesses and sole proprietorships. Most Maine logging firms are family-owned and family-run. There are approximately 2,500 loggers in the state. While the loss of 56 jobs might not sound like a lot, in a four-county area it is huge.
We at the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine fear Mainers and their leaders have become sadly accustomed to bad news from the state paper industry and to a feeling of helplessness, yet there is much we can do to work together to strengthen all sectors of the state economy that depend on our forests.
Mill closures and slowdowns will result in a major decrease in the demand for wood fiber statewide, which will reduce prices and shrink the marketplace for suppliers.
Maine has traditionally been a net importer of fiber from outside sources, including Quebec, New Brunswick, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. But the long-term health of the logging and paper industries in Maine would be better served by greater use of local fiber.
The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine sees this as an opportunity. It is time for the remaining Maine mills to circle the wagons with suppliers and other partners to ensure the strength of our industry for the long term. Maine suppliers and Maine mills should work together to ensure that the fiber that is consumed comes from Maine loggers and Maine landowners.
In the coming weeks, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine will be working with its members, paper mill partners and local legislators to seek solutions to the challenges facing the pulp and paper industry in Maine and the loggers who supply round wood, clean chips and biomass to local mills.
Our members are very supportive of our paper mill partners. Without their business, logging in Maine would largely cease to exist as a viable profession. While the news from Jay, Old Town and Lincoln is another challenge for Maine’s evolving pulp and paper industry, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and loggers across the state will do all we can to help and to make the best of a tough situation.
The forest products sector is worth an estimated $8 billion annually and accounts for one of every 20 Maine jobs. The forests are here, and the jobs are here. Let’s work together to ensure both will still be here for generations to come.
Dana Doran is executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.