The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service awarded $62,500 to the University of Maine for the National Wood Bank project, which has the goal of providing operating support for national research and outreach programming related to wood banks.

Wood banks have been around for a long time, although not always recognized or called wood banks. In Maine, neighbors have given wood to their neighbors when needed, and community organizations have come together to organize volunteer events around firewood. This support from the USDA Forest Service will help wood banks to expand their efforts at the local level.

Jessica Leahy, professor of forestry at UMaine with a research appointment in the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, will lead the projects with collaborators at University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The project is part of a national effort to promote wood banks involving the USDA Forest Service, University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Alliance for Green Heat, a nonprofit that promotes cleaner, more efficient and more affordable renewable heating.

“UMaine has been a leader in research and outreach related to wood banks within New England, so it’s natural that we’d play a role in this expansion of support to wood banks throughout the United States,” says Leahy, who has been working with wood banks in Maine since 2014.

UMaine and UMass Amherst will carry out research and outreach in support of wood banks nationally, by organizing regional listening sessions, hosting a national wood bank virtual summit and creating a yearlong educational webinar series for wood banks around the country that provides expert information about wood banks, from managing forests for firewood goals, to firewood processing, to the management of wood bank volunteers, to wood burning safety and woodstove considerations. 

“Ultimately, we will create a peer network of wood banks to support one another as they serve their communities and help those in need with heat through the winters,” Leahy says. 

“The University of Maine’s outreach efforts will bring wood banks across the country together to share challenges, resources and best practices,” said Steve Koehn, USDA Forest Service director of cooperative forestry. “This national collaboration will help wood banks better serve communities and people using a renewable heat source.”

Additionally, the Alliance for Green Heat will distribute direct grants to wood banks using the USDA Forest Service funding. Grants between $5,000 and $15,000 are available to existing wood banks this year, and in future years the program will be extended to new and newly forming wood banks. Applications are available at firewoodbanks.org.