How Do We Benefit From Our Forests?

Every person in the state benefits from the environmental and economic bounty the Maine forest provides

Environmental Benefits

The forest environment includes both the non-living world of soil, water, and weather and the living forest inhabitants. The relationships between living and non-living components provide benefits to forest dwellers ranging from yellow-bellied sapsuckers to yellow-spotted salamanders.

Trees and soil play important ecological roles. Tree roots absorb soil nutrients and transport them upward to their trunk, branches, and leaves. When leaves and needles fall, they decay to become organic matter in the soil. Organic matter acts like a sponge, absorbing water and releasing it slowly, thus providing a relatively steady supply of water for tree and plant growth and reducing flooding, erosion, and muddy streams. Organic matter also stores and releases nutrients that are then sucked up by plant and tree roots. These nutrients are essential in perpetuating healthy forests.

And what does a healthy standing forest do for us? Trees act as air filters. Using carbon dioxide from the air, sunlight, and water, they create their own food (glucose, a sugar) in a process called photosynthesis. Byproducts of photosynthesis include oxygen and water. In fact, one forested acre releases 2,140 pounds of oxygen for us to breathe and one large tree can release several hundred 

gallons of water through its leaves in a  process known as evapotranspiration.  The forest also provides recreational opportunities. In 2001, over 2.3 million people used Maine’s 41 state parks and historic sites and 2.7 million people visited Acadia National Park. That’s five times the population of Maine utilizing less than 6% of the forest in the state!

Economic Benefits
Not only does the forest of Maine provide a wide variety of wood products; it also provides food, electricity and a lot of jobs.

Forest Products Today, Maine is part of the global economy – we ship forest products all over the world. The most valuable exports are value-added products. Economic value is added with each step in wood processing. For example, for every dollar’s worth of wood in a standing maple tree there is the potential for twenty-seven times that amount, or $27, in a finished maple wood product.

Maine has 15 major paper mills and 500 sawmills, some of which are portable sawmills that can be towed from one site to another. Specialty mills process log homes, ice cream sticks, clothespins, toothpicks, and other wood products.

Major Maine Species and Their Uses

Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Yellow Birch, White Birch, American Beech,
Red Oak, White Ash, Quaking Aspen, Bigtooth Aspen, White Oak

              White Pine, Spruce, Balsam Fir, Eastern Hemlock, White Cedar, Tamarack

                                                               Wood Products

   doors                         cradles                      boats                   tables               barns
   pallets                        baseball bats           paddles               toys                  homes
   snowshoes               paper                         boxes                  baskets            clothes pins
   rr ties                         buckets                     ax handles           wagons           cabinets
   chairs                         reels                          oars                      flooring            toothpicks 
   medicine                    wreaths

Non-wood products are important, too. Native Americans were the first to tap sugar maple trees. Today, over 200 commercial sugaring operations in Maine produce more than 250,000 gallons of maple syrup a year, contributing approximately seven million dollars annually to the state’s economy.

Jobs When timber harvesting, wood processing, and related jobs are combined with service and retail businesses that support the timber industry, the forest products sector of the economy provides 76,000 jobs and contributes four billion dollars to the state’s Gross Annual Product. It also provides $2.3 billion in wages and salaries.

The Maine forest also provides thousands of jobs in travel and tourism. Visitors contribute an estimated $900 million to the Maine economy every year.

Electricity Biomass power plants burn wood wastes from sawmills and logging operations to generate electricity. The ten biomass plants in the state, which are all located in small towns, use about three million tons of wood waste every year. Together, they generate 260 megawatts, or enough capacity to produce electricity for 1000 homes.

Biomass plants produce fewer air pollutants than conventional power plants and rely on a renewable energy source -- trees.



How did you benefit from trees today? Consider your basic needs for food, clothing and shelter when you make your list. How do you benefit from the forest when you take a breath of fresh air?

Forest Fact
In 2000, the latest year for which data are available, six million cords of wood were harvested from the Maine forest – about the maximum sustainable yield, or the amount of wood that can be taken without compromising the health and vitality of forest ecosystems. That is enough wood to make a pile four feet high and four feet wide stretching from Portland, Maine to Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia – a distance of 9,000 miles.

PLT Activity #12: Tree Treasures
People are often surprised to learn how many different products come from trees. This activity helps students learn just how much we depend on trees in our daily lives.

PLT Activity #13: We All Need Trees
It is easy to see wooden items like clothespins come from trees, but it is hard to tell that some products are made from trees. In this activity, students discover many different products derived from trees.

Resources/Web Sites:
Maine Forests Forever
for an on-line North American tree guide
learn more about Maine maple syrup
the Maine Forest Products Council—a source of information about the work, study and recreation going on throughout Maine’s working forest.