Timber-dependent industries in Western Maine will likely face higher costs for raw material under a U.S. Forest Service plan to reduce by two-thirds the volume of timber harvested in the White Mountain National Forest.
This year, the Forest Service set the timber harvest at about 28 million board feet. For 1995, it plans to allow a harvest of only 9.6 million board feet. A board foot is a unit of wood one foot by one foot by one inch.
The 780,000 acres of the National Forest, the bulk of which lies in New Hampshire, is noted for hardwood production. The saw logs feed a forest products industry that is vital to the economic health of the region.
The forest-products industry accounted for $128 million of economic activity in Oxford County in 1992, the last year for which the state has figures. The breakdown includes the lumber and wood sector of the economy as well as furniture manufacturing, but not paper mills.
“We’re extremely upset,” said Leon Favreau, owner of Bethel Furniture Stock in Oxford County. His company supplies backs and seats to chair manufacturers throughout the country. “It really puts us in a dilemma if we want to continue meeting our customers’ needs.”
A reduction of 20 million board feet from the National Forest is piddling when compared to the harvest of saw logs in Maine. In 1992, forests in Maine yielded 938 million board feet of softwood saw logs and 300 million feet of hardwood saw logs.
“That part of Maine is the center of the state’s hardwood business. The cuts could hurt,” said Tom Doak, director of policy and planning for the Maine Forest Service. “The impact would be felt most by mills closest to the border.”
Not only will businesses like Bethel Furniture be forced to pay more for wood, but logging on surrounding timberlands will increase to meet the demand for raw material.
“It’s my judgment that as the Forest Service cuts back harvests on public lands, it’s going to put more pressure on private lands,” said David Field, a professor of forest policy at the University of Maine, Orono. “Whether the high price for wood hurts the mills depends on whether mills can pass the prices along to their markets.”
Charles Niebling, executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, takes a dimmer view of the proposed cuts in timber sales.
“A decrease of nearly 20 million board feet in hardwood saw logs and other forest products would translate into lost income of an estimated $18 million to $20 million in the rural economy of northern New Hampshire and Maine,” he said.
Even Forest Service officials in New Hampshire are not thrilled with the proposal, which is contained in the federal budget proposed by President Clinton. The Forest Service does not break even selling timber. Roads must be built and environmental analyses must be undertaken. And the public must be involved.
Within the Forest Service, the money to support the timber-sales program has stayed about the same. But much of it has been shifted to fund timber sales in the national forests of the Pacific Northwest, where Clinton staked his prestige on a negotiated compromise between environmental and logging interests.
“We’re working with the president’s budget,” said Chuck Myers, deputy forest supervisor for White Mountain National Forest. “We’re not very pleased with it.”