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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, May 21 2014

Locally harvested wood tends to stay local

Three quarters of the timber harvested on Two Trees Forestry clients goes to mills within 40 miles. (Photo by Tony Fischer made available through Creative Commons.)

The Spring 2014 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine described the interesting flow of wood between woodlots and processing facilities, throughout New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The article detailed that Maine does a brisk business both in exporting and importing wood for processing.

With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to investigate how far harvested wood travels from Kennebec County, my home county, for processing and where it is converted into lumber, pulp, electricity, pellets, and firewood. Between January 2012 and March 2014, of the roughly 4,030 truck loads of wood harvested on Two Trees Forestry supervised timber sales 1,133 of those loads originated in Kennebec County. Of the total, 158 loads (14%) of that wood stayed in the county and 820 loads (72%) stayed within 40 miles of where it was cut.

I wasn't surprised that so much wood left the county, yet stayed quite close. Most of the wood (714 loads or 63%) ended up at five large mills – the pulp mills owned Verso Paper (Jay), NewPage (Rumford) and SAPPI (Skowhegan) and the biomass plants owned by Re Energy (Livermore Falls) and SAPPI (Skowhegan) - those towns, excepting Rumford, all border Kennebec County.

However, given my analytical bent I couldn’t help but wonder why more than 25% of the wood traveled so much farther. Part of the answer lies squarely on the fact that Verso Paper is the only buyer of pine pulpwood and it's more than 40 miles from many areas of Kennebec County to Jay. Of course virtually all pine pulpwood flowing from Waldo, Knox, and Lincoln Counties travels through Kennebec County to get to Jay and thus correlates better with some of Northern Woodlands’ reporting about wood’s sometimes long commutes. However in trying to keep this story local, I see that some of the rationale behind long truck routes also seems to lie with the home-turf of the contractors with whom we operate, again in line with the magazine’s suggestion. Undeniably contractors send wood to processors near where they live; most have long-standing personal and professional relationships with those wood buyers and their mills. Twenty five percent of the loads traveling more than 40 miles went to mills and buyers in Oxford County, the home county of a contractor whose crews cut a considerable volume of wood for our clients.

It is probably intuitive by now, but more than 95% of all wood harvested from Two Trees’ client lands in Kennebec County was delivered to a Maine mill. I can’t add any more certainty because I don't know the ultimate destination of 51 loads of hardwood and/or spruce sawlogs. Those were sold to log concentration yards in Coopers Mills, Clinton, Turner, and South Paris, for ultimate sale to more distant mills. The spruce/fir sawmill in Stratton and the hardwood sawmills in St. Albans, and Solon, among others, procure wood through such yards. However I know that Canadian hardwood sawmills also buy wood with the aid of those log yards.

The other piece of the wood-travel question that intrigued me was what products all this wood was processed into and what influence Kennebec County-based mills/buyers played in the overall processing infrastructure. More than 65% of the wood was ultimately converted into pulp, pellets, or electricity, while 24% became lumber, with the remaining 12% sold as firewood.

Of the 158 loads (14%) that were delivered for further processing within Kennebec County firewood deliveries totaled 91 of those loads with the remaining 67 delivered to three local sawmills: pine and hemlock sawlogs to Hammond Lumber and Tukey Bros., both in Belgrade, and low-grade hardwood logs to Clark & Sons Pallet in Mt. Vernon.

With this in mind a wondered if it might be reasonable or beneficial to keep more wood within the county. While, Hammond Lumber in Belgrade is certainly Kennebec County’s most popular wood processing destination, it is unclear to what extent that mill could increase its purchasing volume or benefit from buying more local wood. Similarly, while some logging contractors could probably redirect some of the low-grade hardwood that they currently sell as pulpwood into firewood, and thus keep it within the county, unless the county’s demand for firewood increases, and at an advantageous price, those contractors probably won’t replace their steady and reliable wood payment checks from the pulpmills to the less reliable, and occasionally bounced, retail firewood checks. So your guess is as good as mine.

After looking at our data, it appears that wood flowing from Kennebec County mimics the routes described in Northern Woodlands, but not to the same extent as some wood from the other northeastern states. Kennebec County wood is generally processed much closer to the stump than elsewhere. No great surprise, though the review provided me with an enlightening view of the day-to-day movement of our clients’ wood around my county and the State.