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Chellie Pingree represents Maine’s First Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. She serves as chair of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
Forest products are a heritage industry in Maine. Since becoming home to our nation’s very first sawmill in 1623, our woodlands have been an integral part of our identity. We all know how important our woods are to the generations of Mainers who live, work and breathe here. Maine is the most forested state in the country, and as a result, our economy has relied heavily on the logging and forest products industry.
Reduced demand for wood products in recent years has devastated the industry. More than 32,000 paper makers and loggers worked in Maine at the industry’s peak in 1967, and today fewer than 7,000 remain. Unfortunately, we know all too well the heartbreak of losing the local paper mill, as well as the jobs and sense of community that go with it.
As our nation confronts the climate crisis, we must reconcile protecting our planet with revitalizing and rebuilding our logging communities. Fortunately, recent innovations in wood products and sustainable forest management practices offer a pathway to do both.
One key innovation is the increased use of products like cross laminated timber, a type of “mass timber” that can be used in larger multi-family residential buildings or commercial buildings. Also known as “super plywood,” cross laminated timber comprises multiple solid wood panels nailed or glued together in alternating perpendicular layers. Think of it as a thick lumber sandwich.
Cross laminated timber is a less carbon-heavy alternative to cement and steel that can be just as durable, more cost effective, and more climate friendly than traditional building materials when the wood is sustainably sourced. However, unlike steel and cement, wood products sequester carbon from the atmosphere and it remains locked in the wood, even when it is part of a building. Using these innovative wood products helps to ensure that our forests are both environmentally and economically sustainable, preventing the loss of these important carbon sinks to development. When it comes to our home state, cross laminated timber and other new forest products have a tremendous potential to help revitalize logging-dependent economies.
As chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, I recently held a hearing on how increased production of innovative forest products can help to reinvigorate rural economies. We heard from experts on forest products, including Dr. Stephen Shaler from the University of Maine, who highlighted the opportunities being created right here in Maine.
Recent innovations have spurred products like wood fiber insulation, which help to both sequester carbon and breathe new life into Maine’s mill towns. In Madison, the former paper plant will soon become a wood fiber insulation facility, helping to reuse wood fiber residuals and timber management waste byproducts.
Many other facilities are at the cutting edge of forest product innovation, like the forthcoming biochar facility at East Millinocket’s former mill that is estimated to permanently sequester about 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide in its first year. Plus, cutting-edge forest products research at UMaine could lead to the development of alternative fuel sources, as well as nanocellulose, a more sustainable plastic alternative.
To keep the conversation going, I’m proud to join Forest Opportunity Roadmap/Maine ( FOR/Maine) for its Biodiversity Summit on Friday. This collaborative effort between industry, communities, government, education and non-profits will help reimagine Maine’s forest economy and ensure the industry adapts to changing markets. Their important roadmap will ensure we can sustainably produce forest products right here in Maine.
I see an even brighter future ahead for the forest products industry. Working together, we can protect our forests, address the climate crisis, and build a stronger economy across Maine. As your member of Congress, I look forward to doing my part.