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Forest Industry Could Replace Lost Coal Jobs in Kentucky

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According to a report this week by The Independent, Ashland, Ky., USA, researchers are convinced one of the original industries in eastern and southern Kentucky has the potential to provide thousands of new jobs once again. These jobs are needed to help reduce the impact of losing hundreds of good-paying coal mining jobs in the region. 

Expanding the forestry sector could provide $1.49 billion in new revenue and nearly 7,500 additional jobs in a 54-county region that includes areas hit hard by a sharp decrease in coal jobs, researchers in the Department of Forestry at the University of Kentucky said. That growth would drive more jobs in other sectors as well, the study went on to explain.

The department did the study at the request of participants in the initiative called Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican who represents southern and Eastern Kentucky, and Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, started the initiative in 2013 to look for ways to improve the economy and quality of life in the region.

Most regional economic growth in the sector could come from better use of their forests’ lower-quality timber, which is much more abundant. About two-thirds of the timber in the 54-county region is not considered in the top two grades. There also could be better use of high-quality timber, the report said.

The first gains would be to landowners selling timber, loggers cutting and hauling trees, and processors and manufacturers. There is room to expand existing forest-related businesses in the region and to add more loggers, sawmills, and pallet and furniture makers, the report said.

However, there is not current infrastructure to support development of a pulp or paper mill, and there are not enough high-quality trees to justify developing greater veneer-mill capacity, the University’s report said.

Any effort to expand the forest sector must be done in a way that is sustainable and protects wildlife and the environment, which calls for sound management, the report continued.

Unlike coal and other natural resources, properly managed forests can provide a sustainable and renewable industry. Unfortunately, the forests in this region have not always been properly managed, and as a result, forestry has been a boom and bust industry as a result of too much cutting and not enough replanting resulting in an inconsistent stream of high grade lumber. That must change for forestry to again create the jobs that this study envisions, The Independent report noted.

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