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James W. Sewall

 

Maine’s spruce/fir forest harvest predicted to surge over the next 20 years

The Governor's Office has released a new report completed by an Old Town natural-resource consulting firm for the Maine Department of Conservation (MDOC) predicting that harvest levels of the state's spruce-fir fiber resource can be increased significantly over the next 20 years while inventory levels are maintained.

The report on current inventory and projected growth, prepared by James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town, examines Maine's private, state and commercial timberlands, excluding federal lands, amounting to slightly more than 17 million acres.

The Sewall analysis predicts "an opportunity over the next twenty years to significantly increase the harvest levels of spruce/fir while still maintaining current levels of total spruce/fir standing inventory."

As a result, state officials are confident that Maine's forest products industry can play a significant role in a resurging national economy, plus in creating new jobs throughout Maine's woodlands region.

"We can increase our annual harvest of spruce/fir by 64 percent while maintaining our standing inventory over the next 20 years," Governor Paul LePage said. "That sends a powerful signal to our forest industry that Maine is the place to invest. This translates directly into jobs."

"For every new job we create at a sawmill, we have the potential to add three to four new jobs upstream into the forest and downstream into value-added products," Governor LePage pointed out. "That's what increases in fiber supply can do for Maine."

"There have been 30 years of regeneration since the 1980s," MDOC Commissioner Bill Beardsley said. "The resulting forest is now moving into commercial size, and its annual growth rate is accelerating. These vast forests will mature and be ready for harvest on a sustainable basis over the next 20 years. This doesn't even include improvements in future silvicultural practices."

Doug Denico, Maine state forester under MDOC, commented: "Maine's spruce/fir forest is entering a phase when growth rates per acre will increase each year through 2030. A growing, stable supply of spruce/fir bodes well for investment and jobs in our forest industry. Sewall independently confirmed our state analysis. Add to this our industry's ever-improving silviculture practices and harvest utilization, and I am very optimistic for Maine's rural communities."

Denico also said that "the MDOC looks forward to partnering with various groups to fund and advance this project to include all commercial tree species. The Sewall study is timely, as existing and potential investors in new forest products businesses have shown increased interest in the future wood supply of various species."

Sewall was contracted to perform an independent assessment of the state's spruce/fir resource. The report concluded that there currently is about 150 million tons of fiber in the state inventory, based on the U.S.D.A. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis dataset as of 2010. Inventory growth is estimated at 4.7 million tons a year.

As might be expected, Aroostook County has the largest current inventory of fiber, at 1.5 billion cubic feet, and the most timberland, at 3.78 million acres. Piscataquis County is next, with 1 million cubic feet in inventory and 2.25 million acres. Androscoggin County has the smallest inventory, at 10,013,000 cubic feet, while Sagadahoc County has the smallest area of timberland, at 105,949 acres.

The latest inventory data also shows that over the past 10 years, spruce/fir growth was approximately 98 percent of what was harvested. The harvest, however, also has declined over the past 10 years by about 25 percent. With decreased harvesting pressure in recent years, the ratio of growth to harvest now appears positive, according to the report.

Projecting for the next 20 years, Sewall biometricians judged that the harvest can be increased in one year to 4.8 million tons with no effect on inventory. They also stated that harvest actually could be increased to 7.8 million tons annually by the end of the 20-year period while still maintaining inventory at current levels, a 64 percent increase over current levels. At that rate, the average harvest would be 5.86 million tons annually.

The report states that there may be two economic opportunities for Maine producers: one opportunity simply by increasing annual harvest levels; and a second opportunity in harvesting trees planted after the spruce budworm epidemic in the 1970s that have reached maturity.

Adding a note of caution, the report states: "... [T]here is always the chance of another spruce budworm (Choristoneura fumiferana) infestation or widespread loss to wildfire." The risk, however, "is not the same level of concern it has been in the past."

The report notes that the Maine Forest Service continues to survey and monitor spruce budworm. "... [I]t is probable that the budworm will return in numbers large enough to significantly impact the spruce/fir resource," the report states. "... Damage [however] can be minimized by keeping the forest healthy and not letting it become over mature."

Another potential loss could be from forest fire, the Sewall analysts said, adding, however, that "Maine has done a great job of prevention and suppression of forest fires." The report notes a dramatic decrease in the number of acres consumed by forest fires in recent years.

"Both of these risks are partially mitigated by the extensive road system now in place, and by the condition of the forest (younger, more vigorous and more stratified in terms of age class, stand size class and stocking)," the Sewall report concluded.

For the complete Sewall report, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/pubs/pdf/sprucefirresource_rpt.pdf

For more information about the Maine Forest Service, go to: http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs

 

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