Tagged: Vermont

From Stump to Consumer: Many Forest Products Take the Long Road to Customers – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

From Stump to Consumer:  Many Forest Products Take the Long Road to Customers (part 2 of 2)

Nathaniel Gibson

Woodworking, a key industry in Vermont for centuries, is a significant part of the state’s economy. Some environmental considerations include the practices of the loggers and mills harvesting it, as well as where the timber comes from. Timber that travels farther has a bigger carbon footprint. In recent years, various certification standards have been developed to certify lumber as sustainable or “green,” such as those developed by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forest Initiative. The Leadership in Energy Environmental Design certification system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for construction of green buildings.

Ideally, a house would be constructed with local lumber that was either FSC- or SFI-certified and built to LEED specifications. But this process can present some challenges.

J.K. Adams, a manufacturer of wooden kitchenware and furniture in Dorset, was one of the first companies in the industry to be FSC-certified, even though the cost of that certification required the company to raise its prices.

It also had to confront the logistical challenge of isolating FSC-certified lumber from non-FSC-certified lumber.

Maple Landmark Furniture of Middlebury, another company that faced challenges operating under FSC guidelines, eventually dropped its FSC certification because it was very difficult to get certified lumber from local sources.

More FSC-certified lumber is available now – but not consistently.

Tim Copeland of Copeland Furniture in Bradford reports that it is relatively easy to get FSC-certified maple, but some other species, such as walnut, are much more difficult to find.

FSC certification, oriented toward large forests, is costly to obtain. Much of the forest land in Vermont is in small parcels, so each 10- to 25-acre lot must be certified.

Consequently a landowner with a small woodlot often cannot justify the cost of certification, even if that woodlot is being managed in a sustainable manner consistent with FSC requirements.

And unlike some other states, Vermont has not obtained FSC certification for its state forests.

To address this problem, pilot programs are under way to eventually confer FSC status to local foresters who work with small landowners in the state. These foresters could extend FSC status to the people they work with at a much lower cost compared with normal FSC certification.

Other certification systems that are less expensive to obtain – such as the American Tree Farm System – are available.

One of the issues with LEED guidelines, according to Kevin Hastings of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, is that they can dictate the use of nonlocal materials.

For instance, LEED guidelines sometimes require that certain materials used in building construction contain certain percentages of post-consumer-materials recycled content.

In Vermont and many other parts of the Northeast, these materials must be trucked in from distant producers. The carbon emissions generated by trucks as they transport LEED materials to work sites increases the carbon footprint of these “green” materials.

“There’s such a disconnect between the goods we use and where they come from,” observes Malcolm Cooper, president of J.K. Adams.

A LEED-compliant set of cabinets may not be as green as it seems, when the carbon footprint associated with transporting that product is considered. A different set of cabinets that is not LEED-certified might actually be more green, if made by a local woodworker who purchased the lumber from a neighbor’s sawmill that harvested its timber in accordance with sustainable practices.

As Mike Rainville, owner of Maple Landmark Woodcraft, says, “It doesn’t make sense to bring lumber in from 300 miles away when it’s in your backyard.”

Chris Olson, Addison County forester for the Agency of Natural Resources, agrees. Olson points out that harvesting practices in the developed world have largely evolved to the point where many of the related environmental concerns have been mitigated – or at least are addressed by regulations that may or may not be enforced.

Olson notes, “There are forest practices acts, acceptable management practices for protecting water quality, timber harvesting laws and regulations, water quality laws and regulations, FSC, SFI, and many other checks and balances for what happens near the stump. And then we have free trade and all the globalization trends that encourage goods to travel long distances. I would ask these questions: ‘What forest product did you use today? Where’s the stump? Where was it processed and manufactured?'”

Olson describes a typical scenario: “Trees are cut from stumps in Pawlet, limbed and skidded to be loaded onto a truck; trucked to a concentration yard in West Pawlet or Granville, N.Y., trucked or railed to a port, unloaded, loaded onto a ship, shipped across at least one ocean, unloaded, trucked to a concentration yard, unloaded, reloaded onto a truck or rail car, unloaded into a processing plant, sawn, loaded onto a forklift, stuck into a kiln, reloaded onto a truck or rail, unloaded at a furniture plant, manufactured into component parts, boxed, reloaded, trucked or rail freighted again, shipped back across an ocean and then trucked to a big box store. And then I go to that store and buy a chair and assemble it about 30 miles from the stump.”

Local sawmills are closing. David Williams, owner of Champlain Hardwood in Essex Junction, reports that Lakewood Lumber, a big sawmill near Syracuse, N.Y., recently closed because of poor profits and high overseas competition.

Vermont is exporting a larger portion of raw product than ever before.

“Pretty soon we might be exporting more unprocessed high-grade logs – with the bark still on – than we’d have the capacity to saw here in Vermont,” Olson said.

For more information on the link between local wood product producers and Vermont’s environment and working landscape, see the first article in this series, “From forests to furniture: Vermont woodworking businesses tie into the local landscape,” which was published Jan. 16.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at ng@nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
March 6, 2011

From Forests to Furniture: VT Woodworking Businesses Tie into the Local Landscape – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

From Forests to Furniture:  VT Woodworking Businesses Tie into the Local Landscape (part 1 of 2)

Nathaniel Gibson

The buy local movement has significantly increased both the availability and consumption of locally grown food in Vermont. Another major local resource – wood – looms in the background of the state’s numerous farms. Vermont’s landscape is 75 percent forested, and the abundant lumber supports an important value-added wood products industry.

Woodworking has been a legacy industry in Vermont for over 200 years. Woodworkers have passed down skills from generation to generation and developed an international reputation for craftsmanship, attention to detail and exquisite design.

In 2006 the forest products industry in Vermont supported 13,807 direct and indirect jobs, produced $1.83 billion in output, and generated $486 million in personal income for a net fiscal benefit to the state of $12.92 million, according to the report “The Economic Impact of the Value-Added Portion of the Wood Products Industry in Vermont,” prepared by Economic & Policy Resources, Inc.

But even though their industry is large, Vermont woodworkers still face challenges.

“There are fewer of us out there doing what we do – making domestic U.S. wood products,” said Malcolm Cooper, president of J.K. Adams, a manufacturer of wooden kitchenware and furniture located in Dorset.

The recent economic downturn and competition from China have put some less financially well-off companies out of business.Because the wood furniture market typically tracks the housing market, wood products manufacturers have had difficulty maintaining sales volume the past few years.

Manufacturers in China can copy products within six to eight weeks. Even when prospective buyers recognize the large carbon footprint required to ship materials from overseas, it can be tough to turn down imports from China. They are very cheap – so cheap that the prices cannot always be explained by low-labor costs.

Some Chinese manufacturers appear to benefit from significant government subsidy. U.S. trade groups representing wood manufacturers have had some success getting the Commerce Department’s International Trade Commission to increase import duties on Chinese bedroom furniture illegally dumped on the U.S. market.

These duties were renewed in 2010, which is good news for Vermont woodworkers.

But duties are not always foolproof; individual Chinese manufacturers have been able to secure exemptions from some of them.

Cost-cutting measures sometimes backfire on Chinese competitors. A recall of Chinese toys in 2007 due to concerns about lead paint content meant much higher sales volume that year for many domestic toy manufacturers, including Maple Landmark Woodcraft of Middlebury.

Owner Mike Rainville believes that this event made people think about the safety of their toys and where they were made.

“Christmas season was chaos for us because everybody was looking for alternatives,” he remembers enthusiastically.

There have been success stories despite the rough economy.

Kevin Hastings, owner of Amoskeag Woodworking in Colchester, was able to buy Morse Hardwoods and Millwork when they went out of business and keep those jobs in Vermont.

After that acquisition, Hastings moved the business into a larger facility and hired even more employees.

J.K. Adams hosts a weekly Sunday farmers’ market in Dorset that runs year round except for a small break in February. Beyond boosting the company’s Sunday business, the farmers’ market has raised public awareness of local farmers and artisans.

Local wood products manufacturers represent a boon to the state’s economy in many other ways.

They support local wood mills and loggers practicing sustainable forestry.

As a major renewable natural resource, Vermont’s forests require careful management to ensure their future and maintain Vermont’s working landscape.

The local wood industry has traditionally worked with foresters and landowners for years to sustainably manage this natural resource from forest to finished product.

“One of the neat things about Vermont is that you have a long-term pattern of small landholdings passed down from generation to generation. You have people that live in and among and on the land that they own, and there is a built-in ethic of conservationism,” says Tim Copeland, owner of Copeland furniture in Bradford.

In their schoolhouse naturals product line, Maple Landmark Woodcraft focuses on using local maple lumber bought only 9 miles down the road from a Bristol mill run by Tom Lathrup, who represents the fifth generation of his family in the business.

J.K. Adams buys its raw lumber primarily from brokers in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, although Cooper points out with some disappointment that with the decline in the working landscape in Vermont fewer local sawmills are operating.

Occasionally he must procure lumber from Canada that originated in Vermont and was exported for processing.

J.K Adams also buys reject ash wood shovel handle blanks from a local manufacturer and uses them to make their wine racks, recycling what would otherwise be waste.

Copeland Furniture uses sustainably harvested hardwoods from the Northeast.

Most of their maple comes from Vermont; however, not all species are abundant in-state. Some wood, such as cherry, must be purchased from New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

But the ease and environmental benefits of getting local materials does factor into their design process.

“We have a predisposition to making things out of maple because we can get maple from local sawmills,” Copeland said.

Amoskeag Woodworking also uses sustainable, local materials. They recently worked with the University of Vermont on a project using timber from UVM property that had been harvested by a Vermont logger and finished by Amoskeag – a local endeavor from start to finish.

Wood products made in Vermont from local, sustainably harvested materials support the state’s working landscape and the local economy. The next article in this series will look at the environmental problems associated with importing wood furniture from overseas and the issues related to sustainability certification standards for wood products.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at ng@nathanielrgibson.com.

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
January 16, 2011

Railing Against Transportation Emissions – Rutland Herald Article

Posted on April 5, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Railing Against Transportation Emissions

Nathaniel Gibson

A few years ago, I traveled by train in China at speeds greater than 120 mph. I’ve often wondered since then why such high-speed rail travel has not been developed in the U.S. Given the many environmental advantages of rail over automobiles, the decision to invest in improvements to the rail infrastructure in this country seems like a no-brainer. The fuel economy performance of light-duty vehicles – passenger cars, SUVs and pickups – and freight trucks has been dismal in recent years.

In fact, the average fuel economy of light-duty vehicles has not improved substantially since the early 1990s. And trucks have actually become less fuel efficient.

Between 1990 and 2005, carbon dioxide emissions increased 13 percent per ton-mile of freight hauled by trucks, according to the April 2010 U.S. Department of Transportation Report to Congress, “Transportation’s Role in Reducing US Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

The same DOT report shows the fuel efficiency of rail has been steadily improving since 1990, posting a 21.5 percent reduction in fuel used per ton-mile. Indeed, compared to all other modes of freight transportation, freight rail has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) per ton-mile.

Statistics for freight rail are more significant compared to passenger rail, which accounts for less than 10 percent of the total GHG emissions for rail transportation as a whole. Even so, passenger rail is a very efficient means of transport.

In terms of GHGs emitted per passenger-mile traveled, it ranks above light-duty trucks, passenger cars and airplanes, and is topped only by motorcycles and buses. And passenger rail often delivers passengers to the centers of cities, precluding the need for additional ground transport, such as taxis or shuttles.

Unfortunately, the environmental benefits of rail have traditionally been outweighed by other factors. A major factor in the evolution of rail in the U.S. and Vermont has been competition from light-duty vehicles and freight trucking, which enjoy the advantage of operating on publicly-subsidized roads. In 2006, light-duty vehicles and freight trucks accounted for 59 percent and 19 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, respectively, according to the DOT report, while rail accounted for only 3 percent.

Another complicating factor is that rail traffic in Vermont and across the U.S. operates on a network of mostly privately-owned track stretching across municipalities and state lines. Improvement efforts, which must be coordinated between several different entities, do not have access to the same level of public funding available for roads.

Vermont was the first state to purchase a privately-owned railroad when the Rutland Railroad went out of business in 1962. The state recognized the need to sustain freight movement and has since continued to buy rail property. Today the state owns 305 miles of the approximately 600 miles of operating rail line in Vermont.

“Rail is a regional or national undertaking. You can’t just talk about the state of Vermont when you talk about rail,” says Gina Campoli, environmental policy manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, “It requires a lot of regional effort.”

Fortunately the future of rail in Vermont and the surrounding region is now looking brighter, thanks in large part to significant grants for rail improvements through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Recently, a number of projects across the state became eligible for funding under ARRA. Vermont requested ARRA funding for three projects, known as Tracks 1-3, and has received approval for two of them.

The Track 1 application, approved for $50 million, involves improving the Vermonter line to increase freight capacity and increase track speeds, cutting 27 minutes of travel time between St. Albans and the Massachusetts border.

The Track 2 application is for $74 million in funds to extend the Ethan Allen Express along Route 7 to Burlington and make improvements to the existing line. This application was not granted the first time around, but has been resubmitted with some slight changes based on feedback from the Federal Railroad Administration. Joe Flynn, Rail Director for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, is optimistic that this revised Track 2 application will be approved.

The already approved Track 3 application for $1 million is to develop a corridor service plan for service between Albany, N.Y., and Rutland that runs through Bennington and Manchester.

Compared to the state’s annual budget, which in 2009 allocated approximately $10 million of state funds for rail, Flynn points out that the ARRA grants give Vermont a level of capital to spend on rail projects that would not be available otherwise.

Vermont contracts with Amtrak to provide two passenger routes in the state. The Vermonter runs from St. Albans to Washington, D.C., with stops in Essex Junction, Waterbury, Montpelier, Randolph, White River Junction, Windsor, Claremont N.H., Bellows Falls and Brattleboro before joining up with the Springfield line in Springfield, Mass. The Ethan Allen Express runs from Rutland to New York City’s Penn Station, via Castleton before crossing into New York state, where it stops at Fort Edward, Saratoga Springs and Schenectady before joining up with the Hudson River Corridor in Albany.

Vermont pays Amtrak an annual subsidy, which in 2010 is $4.8 million, to operate the two lines. Amtrak, in turn, uses a portion of this money to lease rail from host railroads within the state.

Flynn reports that the state is very pleased with the Amtrak service. The segment of the Vermonter that runs on the New England Central Railroad has some of the best on-time performance of Amtrak trains nationwide. On-time numbers for the Ethan Allen Express have also been improving.

Passengers seem to be taking note: Amtrak ridership and revenue have both been increasing recently. Perhaps someday I’ll be going 120 mph on a train in Vermont.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and frequent traveler who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted at ng@nathanielrgibson.com.


Vermont Rail Action Network:  www.railvermont.org/

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus:
October 17, 2010