A new report says Vermont's forestry industry contributed about $3.4 billion to the state's economy in 2012 and sustains about 20,600 jobs.
The Northeast State Foresters Association and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation have released the report titled “The Economic Importance of Vermont’s Forest-based Economy”. It assesses all sectors of the state’s economy that depend on wood, forests and trees including lumber, firewood, furniture, maple syrup, biomass, recreation and Christmas trees. It calculates that nearly 21,000 jobs in all sectors are affected by Vermont’s forests.
Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation Director of Forests Steven Sinclair is also chair of the Northeast State Foresters Association. Sinclair says Vermont’s working landscape is dominated by trees and its economic benefit is often overlooked. “The wood sector is the second largest manufacturing portion of our economy after electronics. There’s thousands of jobs that are reliant upon our forest products sector.”
Sinclair explains that the primary forestry sector - the raw forest products - is a primary contributor to the economy. But the added impact is how those materials are used. “It’s taking those raw materials and turning them into wood products. Then when you think about New England and our reliance on travel and tourism and four states recreation, you put all those combined and we’re talking annual revenues of over $2billion.”
Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder says the forest-based economy is a significant component of Vermont’s GDP. “In rural Vermont especially it’s foundational. It’s the bedrock of Vermont’s rural economy, providing jobs and opportunity as well as creating the natural infrastructure for our outdoor recreation and contributes significantly to what makes Vermont, Vermont.”
The report notes that the amount of timber harvested has declined from 1.4 million cords in 1997 to just under 1 million cords in 2011, and is in a gradual rebound. It charts a loss of jobs in the wood products sector since a peak in the 1990s and early 2000s. Vermont Land Trust President Gil Livingston says the forest economy is in peril in much of the northeast. “And that has a lot to do with the regional loss of important infrastructure, the declining number of mills and other processing facilities. Having said that, there’s a clear increase in mechanization so while the number of jobs in the woods have declined, there hasn’t been as much of a decline in logging activity.”
Commissioner Michael Snyder is animated when discussing the many uses and potential of the state’s forested lands. “We know leaf peepers and tourism and outdoor recreation, mountain biking and skiing and the like, clean water, clean air, flood resiliency, all of those things come from our forested landscape. And at this point our last best hope for maintaining a forested landscape is actually to work with that landscape. I know it sounds somewhat counter-intuitive that we’re going to save forests by cutting trees, but that’s our best chance in most cases is to work with the land with scientifically based silvicultural practices. If you do it right, we can have a forest economy that is important for human communities and we can maintain this forested landscape.”