- Associated Press - Friday, April 4, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Forestry officials say the growing popularity of bourbon and whiskey worldwide is helping bring back Kentucky’s forest and wood-products industry.

The good news came in the Kentucky Forestry Economic Impact Report for 2013-14, which was released on Thursday.

UK forestry extension professor Jeff Stringer co-wrote the report.

Stringer told The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/1j9MAeb) the industry is coming back from the recession that caused it to tank in 2009. In 2013, the industry pumped $7.9 billion into the state’s economy - putting it on par with the with the state’s tourism industry.

In all, the industry directly employed 27,574 last year, up 4.6 percent since 2011, according to the report. Stringer said forestry and wood products account for about 3 percent of the state’s workforce.

Nearly all segments of the industry showed growth last year and are poised for more in 2014, Springer said

Logging and milling grew the most, but commercial logging levels are still off their peak from 1999. Increased housing starts have led to a demand for more wood floors and cabinets. One area that’s lagging is pulp and paper production, driven in part by declining demand for newsprint, Springer said.

Despite the increase in logging, Kentucky’s forests are not being depleted, Kentucky Division of Forestry Director Leah MacSwords said.

The number of forested acres decreased in the 1980s, but it bounced back to about 12.4 million acres by the early 2000s and has been holding steady.

Stringer added that “Kentucky currently is growing almost two times more trees than are being harvested.

At the Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville, workers are making 2,700 whiskey barrels each day from white oak, with assembly line employees working overtime to keep up with demand.

“Our production is as high as it’s ever been,” more than 600,000 barrels a year, said Operations Manager Darren Whitmer.

Union workers assemble the 105-pound barrels by hand. They saw wood into staves, wrap them with steel bands, steam them to make them watertight and then char the insides with fire.

Whitmer said he’s worked at the plant for 13 years and never tires of the sights and smells.

“Every day, when I pull up, the first thing you smell is the burning white oak,” he said. “You smell that sweetness in the air.”

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Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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