One of the best kept secrets in Maryland is the economic value of its forestland. According to the Department of Natural Resources, there are 2.6 million acres of forest in the state and most of us have not begun to utilize their economic potential or explored how forests can help us be more energy independent and sustainable.
My views about forestland are based on a lifetime of utilizing forest resources. On our farm, when we needed a new barn, we hitched up the tractor to a trailer and cut down some trees. We would then take them to our small mill, saw the logs into lumber, and then build the barn. For us, the cost of a barn was the cost of the nails, the tin for the roof, and the hinges for the doors. When I was ready to build our house, the process for getting lumber was the same, though I did not attempt to mill the wood for the hardwood floors or the siding for the house. Looking back, I realize that using wood from our farm would be considered a ‘green’ practice (a renewable construction material, with minimal transportation costs.) At the time, I was just grateful for the ‘green’ that I saved!
Our farm was not unusual. Farmers up into the middle of the 20th century typically sought out farms that had both fields and forest. Old deeds specifically reference forest tracts. Farmers relied on them for firewood and for construction projects.
Over time our mill wore out and my father was no longer able to run the mill, so when I needed to build a small barn, I went to a local mill to purchase the lumber (which cost only about $2,000 for a 24′ x 24′ barn), rather than pay much higher fees from a chain retail lumber store. I wonder why more people don’t do the same? Perhaps it is because local lumber fell out of fashion at about the same time as canning your own foods and raising your own chickens.
We also had a wood stove in our house to supplement the heating costs. Over time, I kept hearing that wood stoves were polluting the air, so we reduced our use of the stove. However, in the last decade, I learned that new EPA rated stoves are 50% more energy efficient and produce 70% less particle pollution indoors and out.
For homesteaders and others who wish to be off the grid or cut their electric bills, these new wood stoves are a great partner with other energy sources, particularly wind and solar energy sources. They are reliable sources for heat and cooking when power lines go down or solar and wind power drop at night. They are a treasured appliance in an ice or snow storm.
So why aren’t more people using local lumber for construction projects in this new “Buy Local” era? The problem is that the local distribution system for lumber no longer exists. For too long, we have relied on chain stores who source their lumber from thousands of miles away. To find local lumber, you need to find a local mill, which most customers seem reluctant to do. And for most of us who like wood stoves for heating or cooking, we have to get rid of the old ones before our spouses will allow us to buy a new one!
For those of us with forest stands, the University of Maryland Extension has prepared a Maryland Small-Acreage Professional Forester Directory. Those who wish to find EPA rated wood stoves will find them in most stores that sell stoves.
What about using wood for commercial energy applications? On November 14, 2012, Maryland Wood Energy Coalition convened a meeting with representatives from the industry, non-profit groups, and government called “Accelerating Wood Energy in Maryland.” Over 100 participants packed a room to develop ways to re-energize the industry. Most of the conference’s PowerPoint presentations with narration and audience questions can be viewed at Annapolis Conference.