Trees are also dying because of insects. That has led to increasing supply for wood banks in some areas; in others, infestations have complicated operations. The detection of the emerald ash borer in Portland and the establishment of quarantine zones, for instance, has prevented the Cumberland Wood Bank from making deliveries to some towns they used to supply. “Now we have to consider where the wood is coming from and where it is going,” said Bruce Wildes, who founded the wood bank in 2007.
For some wood banks, mitigating future climate impacts by creating more resilient forests is a consideration. That is part of the rationale behind a new wood bank on Blue Hill Heritage Trust land in Surry. “Thinning helps with climate resiliency,” said Sandy Walczyk, a forester, as she scanned the site. “The wood bank will be here, but the wood will come from trust land all over.”
The connections between climate impacts, wood supply, and poverty have drawn researchers at the University Massachusetts Amherst and the University of Wisconsin to study wood banks on a national scale. Growing out of dozens of interviews of wood bank volunteers done by Clarisse Hart, director of outreach and education at the Harvard Forest, the team has identified 82 wood banks across the country.
“What can we do now from a realistic standpoint with all this wood?” asked Richard Harper, a professor of environmental conservation at UMass Amherst. “Wood banks present one small piece of this larger puzzle of wood utilization.”
Their work builds on a study of northern New England wood banks done by Dr. Leahy and Sabrina Vivian. In 2015 they published a guide to starting and running a wood bank, describing the approaches of eight banks. “No one was doing it in the same way,” Dr. Leahy said. They hoped that other fuel-insecure communities would find a model that fit.
Several did. Gil Tenney heard about the guide and, with a handful of others, started a wood bank in Castine, on the eastern side of Penobscot Bay. The group raises money to buy logs wholesale (many wood bank operators said they take care not to undermine local firewood dealers). They split and season, or dry, the wood and give away about 10 cords a winter. Like many wood banks, Castine’s is on land made available by the town. Like all wood banks, the backache-inducing labor is done by volunteers, most of whom are retirees. “We are small, we are energetic, and we are an average age of 75,” Mr. Tenney said.