As regions of Kentucky continue to suffer from economic downturns, expanding timer commercialization may be one way to boost state and local economies, said Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville.
Combs’ eastern Kentucky district is not the only portion of the state that could see an impact from an expanded timber industry in the state, said State Forester Leah MacSwords, director of the Kentucky Division of Forestry.
MacSwords said there are currently 12 million acres of forest land and all 120 counties have merchantable timber.
“109 counties have forest industries,” MacSwords said. “It contributes over $12 billion to the state’s economy.”
A 2014 University of Kentucky review of the forestry says there are more than 28,000 jobs in the forest and wood industry in the state.
The industry delivers a total employment — direct, indirect and induced — impact of more than 50,000 jobs, according to UK.
With the possibility of expanding the market, MacSwords said an important point to make is reforestation.
“In Kentucky we grow more trees than are removed or die,” she said. “That’s good. That means we have enough tree volume available to support additional industries.”
Combs said the overall goal is to include the discussion of increased timber commercialization as part of the Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR, initiative. There are also talks taking place with the Economic Development Cabinet to increase the market, but the first step Combs said is education and proper reforestation.