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Two Trees Forestry
167 Main St.
P.O. Box 356
Winthrop, ME 04364
V: (207) 377-7196
F: (207) 377-7198 harold@twotreesforestry.com

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Wednesday, October 22 2014

Conference answers 'local wood' question


Brent Mace operating his band-saw mill in Readfield

Maine’s first-ever Local Wood Works Conference, November 14 & 15 in Augusta raises a question. What is “local wood?”


As anyone who read the May 2014 Two Trees Features knows, wood grown and harvested in Kennebec County, for example, can up at any number of destinations - Verso Paper Mill in Jay, Hammond Lumber in Belgrade, or the Re-Energy power plant in Livermore Falls, to name just a few. I would consider all of those destinations “local.” On the other hand if you need pressure-treated timbers for a deck, you’ll likely purchase wood harvested in the southern U.S. As well, dowels and other wood turnings sold locally are often sourced from Asian or Baltic birch, and large volumes of toilet paper and paper towels, and other ‘tissue’ papers, are imported from China. Interestingly, when I shopped for birch dowels to use in a display for the Local Wood Works conference, my local lumber yard only had ones milled in Vietnam. A web search turned up several websites, but only one Maine mill.


So how local is “local wood?” Two Trees Forestry asked that question of conference organizers.


“Everyone has their own definition,” said Sarah Fuller, Program and Outreach Consultant for Kennebec Woodland Parntership. “In agriculture, some would say not over ten miles away. For us, the wood basket is larger. We look at it as wood that is grown and processed in Maine.”


A bigger question is whether “local wood” can take off in the same way that “local food” has exploded. Conference organizers certainly hope consumers will buy a table if they know it came from a maple tree grown, harvested and milled right here in Maine. And if they do, they also hope that that translates into more local employment and perhaps higher stumpage paid to landowners.


“We’d like to build awareness that you can get local wood products,” said Fuller. She believes local “has a cachet.” And not just the spending benefits neighbors, but for the environmental benefits of reducing transportation costs and its related greenhouse gas emissions.


A guide to local wood products is planned, she said.
“You can brand anything. It depends on the resources you put into it,” she said.


One person who has wrestled with increasing the economic value of Maine’s woods is Collin Miller, the outgoing director of wood product initiatives at the Northern Forest Center in Concord, NH.


Miller believes customers will even pay more for certain locally-sourced handcrafts.


“I think people will pay more on the very small, micro level, at the one or two person shop level,” such as the West Paris home-based business selling custom clothespins on Etsy.


Miller believes there may be greater potential in shifting traditional Maine wood manufacturers away from producing wood “commodities” to producing “mass customization” of wood products. Currently the vast majority of Maine’s wood is processed into commodities, such as 2X4s, pulp, and electricity, at Maine mills, which also qualifies as locally processed. But to Miller’s point, mass customization involves streamlining production, speeding up turnaround times, and introducing greater consumer choices, he said. A prime example is Maine Wood Concepts in New Vineyard, which produces an impressive array of handles, beads, knobs, spindles, wheels, pegs and other turnings. JSI Store Fixtures in Milo produces an equally impressive array of orchard bins, display tables, euro tables and display carts for grocery stores.


However, some Maine-based companies reach far beyond Maine for wood. Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers, the Auburn-based furniture maker and a “brilliant marketer,” sources wood from globally, said Miller.


“They started their workshop in a chapel in New Gloucester. They tell a Maine story,” Miller said.


But for Thos. Moser “wood is its richness, beauty, character,” Miller said. “I don’t think the public care all that much where the wood is from, unless they’re Mainers.”
The Northern Forest Center considers anything in a 35-state northern forest region as local. “That’s local to me,” said Miller. “I don’t get too hung up on local.


“We think of local in the sense of companies they are local community members, providing local jobs and donating to local charities,” said Miller.


The November conference includes an indoor day at the Augusta Civic Center with workshops and speakers, followed on Saturday with tours of local mills and woodlots. Registration information can be gained at (207) 377-2848 or at www.localwoodworksmaine.com.