By BELLA LEVAVI, Staff Writer
SHELBURNE — With many multi-generational family farms harvesting timber but only 2% of the wood harvested being used in the local economy, Massachusetts has a long way to go to bolster the timber industry, according to local business representatives and state officials.
The topic of how the state can help the local timber industry arose this week during the Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts’ board meeting. The conversation focused on the many ways Massachusetts regulations negatively impact the local industry and instead prompt harvesters to send the timber to Canada for processing.
Director of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi and Kristen Elechko, western Massachusetts director for Gov. Maura Healey’s office, both spoke, asking how they might help.
“I need to be at the meeting to hear what you are doing and learn what we can do as a state to do better,” Gobi told attendees.
Also speaking at the meeting were Lever Inc. Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas and Alan Spooner, owner of Cruckfather LLC. Cruckfather won the second Mohawk Trail Entrepreneurship Challenge in 2022 sponsored by Lever and received $25,000 for the business.
Cruckfather is a seven-employee business that makes artisanal timber frames. Spooner hopes to begin making take-home kits where people can buy timber frame pieces and put the structures together themselves. However, Spooner explained he runs into many issues given that Massachusetts building codes prohibit contractors from using locally harvested, ungraded wood for building residential structures.
Cruckfather said while the quality of his wood is often higher than wood that can be found in lumber yards, it does not have the proper seal from inspectors stating it is Grade 2 lumber or higher, so he is unable to use it for buildings other than garages and accessory structures. Still, he noted sometimes he can work with local building inspectors to get around this regulation.
For the local timber industry to expand, Spooner said, there will need to be changes to state codes to help grow the market for local wood.
“The way the code is written doesn’t lend itself to native lumber,” Spooner said. “There are so many hoops you have to jump through.”
Several people spoke about the success of state programs to support the local agriculture industry. This includes the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) that helps low-income individuals purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. This program supports local farms and provides healthy food for consumers.
“There is no question the HIP has been a win-win,” Gobi said. “It is amazing what that has done for people.”
Several times people brought up attempts by the state to do the same for the timber industry that have fallen by the wayside, referring to the industry as a “stepchild” in the state’s priorities. Woodlands Partnership of Northwest Massachusetts board members said if the state could have an incentives program like HIP for local timber it could go a long way toward supporting the industry.
“Logging trucks are going up north. Why are we not staying here?” Gobi said.
Jay Healy, of Hall Tavern Farm in Charlemont, said much of the timber gets sent north to Canada for processing because there is more infrastructure for the industry. He said there are more incentives in Canada for timber companies, which leaves Massachusetts unable to compete on a larger scale.
“The desire is here and the material is the best in the world. We live in a honey pot of forests,” Healy said. “The nice stuff here goes to Canada and then gets dispersed throughout the globe.”
“I hate to see the trucks going north, but with the infrastructure here…” Spooner stated. “I can’t think of anybody around here that would rather go to Home Depot instead of go to Jay.”
Gobi, formerly Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, said the commission will have a new report done in December. She promised attendees she will ensure forestry is part of it.
Reach Bella Levavi at 413-930-4579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.