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China pulls Oregon timber harvest out of depression

Log sales to China have fueled a rebound in Oregon timber harvest from a historic low in 2009.

Log sales to China have fueled a rebound in Oregon timber harvest from a historic low in 2009.

Oregon Department of Forestry announced this week that timber harvests in Oregon last year were up 21 percent from the historic low they hit in 2009. The No. 1 reason? Log exports to China.

Timber harvest typically swings up and down based on what’s happening in the U.S. housing market. But since that market’s been in a free fall for the past few years, new buyers for Oregon’s timber have emerged overseas.

ODF forest economist Gary Lettman said Chinese log and lumber buyers are the reason Oregon’s timber harvest saw an uptick last year. And China will continue to be a driving factor in this year’s harvests, he said.

This is just another way in which China’s growth and a shifting global economy is changing the natural resource landscape in the Northwest (We’re also exporting more seafood and considering exporting coal).

The uptick in exports hasn’t gotten Oregon nearly back to the harvest levels of 2004-06. And the shift toward timber exports creates problems for mill owners, who now have to compete with China for the raw logs they use to make two-by-fours. With the housing market and non-residential construction still in the doldrums, mill owners don’t have a lot of buyers for their lumber. That  makes it harder for them to compete with China for raw logs.

Lettman said mill owners are using log exports as a reason to argue for more logging on public forestland (that would lower prices because it adds supply to the market, but it would also help mills because it’s illegal to ship public timber overseas).

His reaction: Good luck with that!

“The Department of Forestry is not able to harvest more. … It’s very politically sensitive. For the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, it’s a real difficult sell to get more timber off public lands.”

China is also buying some lumber, but it’s often cheaper to import the raw logs and mill them over there.

Demand from overseas manifested itself across almost all sectors of timber harvest (the only exception was in Bureau of Land Management forests). From ODF:

  • Forest industry, which accounted for 68 percent of Oregon’s total 2010 harvest, also recorded a large gain in harvest. This category, comprising large, corporate landowners, added 219 million board feet in 2010. This brought the industry total to 2.2 billion board feet, an 11 percent increase from the 2009 harvest of just under 2 billion board feet.
  • Although forest industry accounted for the largest volume increase in harvest from the 2009 numbers, the other private sector-often called non-industrial or family forestland owners-accounted for the largest percentage growth in harvest from 2009 to 2010. Cutting 93 million board feet in 2009, these smaller landowners expanded harvests by 145 percent to a total of 228 million board feet in 2010.
  • Other notable increases in 2010 timber harvest include those of the U.S. Forest Service and State owner classes, each with an increase of 62 million board feet over 2009 totals. From 2009 the State total increased 26 percent to 297 million board feet, and the Forest Service total grew 32 percent to 254 million board feet. Both State and Forest Service harvest totals for 2010 are the highest for those ownership classes since 2005.
  • With a harvest of 79 million board feet, the Native American tribes’ totals are up 14 million board feet from 2009 - the highest they have been since 2004.

Logging Oregon Department of Forestry

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