By Bill Moore
A result of my role with the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, I have the opportunity to meet with and learn about a wide range of businesses and industries. Last week I was speaking with Ed Larson, the executive director of the Vermont Forest Product Association. He is also also a member of my board of directors and the secretary/treasurer of the Central Vermont Chamber. I started to investigate the value the forest economy brings to the state. What an education I got.
The importance of the forest product industry in Vermont cannot be overstated. It adds approximately $1.5 billion to our gross domestic product. According to the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, “Vermont’s forests cover 4,591,281 acres of land. That is equal to 78% of the state, a level which has remained steady since the 1980s.” The Department notes that, unlike other northeastern states with large corporate ownerships, “only 1% of Vermont’s forest is owned by businesses, including timberland investment management organizations (TIMOs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).”
A hardwood mix of beech, birch and maple represents 71 percent of the forests’ coverage. The sugar maple, our state tree, makes up about 20 percent of the woodland. It’s no wonder that we are the nation’s leading producer of maple syrup.
The department must assess the forest resources and develop deliberate strategies to manage our forests. The 2017 Forest Management Plan is published online for anyone to read.
Mr. Larson told me that there are more than 200 loggers and truckers engaged in the industry. All told, there are about 700 businesses directly tied to the industry. Included in those numbers are growers/landowners, forest managers, loggers, truckers, saw mills, paper producers, wood chippers and fire wood producers, not to mention secondary users including furniture manufacturers and others engaged in making wood products. “Money does grow on trees for us,” he said.
The industry is high risk and sometimes misunderstood. Contrary to the belief of some, responsible forest management is vital. Trees have to be harvested. It is a 100 percent renewable product. Also, harvesting, whether for energy use or products, is an important aspect of good forest management.
The industry does operate year-round, providing good high-paying jobs. Also, weather can have an impact on operations. The optimum time for the industry is when the land is dry or frozen. Mud season and other wet periods can be miserable, halting harvests and trucking. Industry experts like Mr. Larson recognize more challenges with changing weather patterns. On a very positive note, greenhouse gasses including carbon monoxide and other potentially harmful gasses, such as sulfur dioxide, are absorbed by trees.
The forests are an important part of our ecosystem. Trees provide habitat and food for animals. A large tree can provide enough oxygen for four people for a day. Whether providing shelter and food for animals, recreational opportunities for families, good jobs, renewable energy sources — or a being a critical absorber of carbon monoxide — we owe a big “thank you” to those who dedicate themselves to the responsible, safe management of our forests.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.