Maine’s logging industry is suffering and its future is unclear
BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Officials say the logging industry is struggling. Paper usage across the country is down roughly 20 percent compared to last year according to the American Forest and Paper Association.
“Really the issues with utilization for pulp and paper go back to January and February,” says Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.
While we didn’t feel the effects of the pandemic personally until March, Doran says their industry was hit months ahead. Shipments of pulp to Asia had to be halted due to coronavirus. Doran says, “We saw the problems kind of percolating back then and then it’s been just a snowball impact since then.”
One of those snowballs was the explosion at the Pixelle Mill in Jay. “About 20 percent of all the fiber that is harvested in the state of Maine went to that one mill. That’s over 100,000 truck loads. So, it has an enormous impact and then, of course you add to it, the COVID situation,” says Doran.
He says business is down 30 to 40 percent and with one job for every 4,000 tons, he estimates a loss of 1,000 jobs industry wide in Maine.
Pixelle has cut nearly half of its workforce, with plans to rebuild still being determined according to a mill spokesman. Now, the Rumford union is warning more than 100 employees at ND Paper could lose their jobs as the mill looks to more packaging. “It’s catastrophic - it really is,” says Doran.
This industry is no stranger to hardship. It tackled several major mill closures back in 2014. But Doran says, while the loss the industry saw then was great it pales in comparison to the rapid challenges they face now. “In 2014 we harvested about 14.5 to 15 million tons. In 2019 we harvested about 12.5 million tons. So, we lost two million tons as a result of those closures. We’ve seen almost four million tons go away in 2020, in less than one year," he says.
Doran says the state delegation has tried their best to assist the industry and its workforce, but federally they’ve been overlooked. “Our frustration has grown because we see farmers and fishermen, the red carpet has been rolled out for them.” Through the federal CARES Act, farmers across the country have been given roughly $18 billion and fisherman $2 billion. He says, “Loggers have been given nothing, other than what Governor Mills has carved out of state coronavirus funding.”
Doran says those in the industry remain hopeful that markets will return, a vaccine will be introduced and new markets, which the state has been positioned for will be introduced.
But without federal assistance or a quick resolution to the pandemic, the future of the industry is in peril. “If the logging infrastructure goes away, it will not return. 2021 could be a great year or it could be even worse than 2020. We’re just not clear where we stand at this point,” says Doran.
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