Pacific Northwest Faces Critical Timber Shortage

by | Apr 11, 2024 | 2024, Industry News, March/April 2024, TimberWest Magazine

THE AMERICAN FOREST RESOURCE COUNCIL  (AFRC) is urging the Pacific Northwest’s Congressional delegation to address challenges to the region’s forestry and wood products industry.

In a letter to the delegation, AFRC president Travis Joseph noted that western Oregon has experienced the closure or curtailment of three wood product mills since the beginning of the year. In addition, more closures and curtailments in the Pacific Northwest are likely. The common thread is a diminishing timber supply for manufacturers of wood products.

“All three western Oregon mills that announced closures or curtailments this year are surrounded by some of the most productive public forestland in the country,” said Joseph. “All three mills purchase and rely on public timber to operate and sustain workforces. All three mills cited the lack of timber supply as a significant factor in the decision to close or curtail operations.”

The region’s forestry and wood products industry supports more than 150,000 private sector jobs in Oregon and Washington and provides critical infrastructure for the federal government to improve forest health, reduce wildfire risks on federal lands, and help meet growing demand for carbon friendly wood products.

Joseph’s letter highlights several factors contributing to this wood supply crisis. These factors include the aftermath of the 2020 Oregon Labor Day fires that decimated a vast swath of timberland, reducing timber availability for decades into the future. Additionally, legislative and policy changes, such as the Oregon Private Forest Accord and state forest management plans in Oregon and Washington, are further reducing the supply of raw material to these mills.

“In plain terms, log prices are driven by supply and demand,” noted Joseph. “In the Pacific Northwest, current milling demand for logs, driven by public demand for wood products, is higher than current and projected log supply. Either regional log supply needs to increase to meet public demand, or the Pacific Northwest will experience additional mill closures and losses in critical workforce.”

The demand for raw material can be met by responsible management of forests in the Pacific Northwest “or this demand will be met in other parts of the U.S., and from countries that do not share our social and environmental values,” said Joseph.

Millions of acres of federal forestlands are at imminent risk from catastrophic wildfires, insects, and disease, according to Joseph. They are forests in desperate need of science-based, active management and restoration.

However, forest management depends on the existing and remaining forestry and wood products industry, including modern and efficient mills, loggers and forestry contractors, truck drivers and equipment operators, and the vast supply chains the industry supports.

Congress has responded by providing $6 billion to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act to accelerate the pace and scale of treatments to remove hazardous fuels loads, improve forest health and resiliency, and to protect communities, property, infrastructure, and public health.

The Forest Service also proposed in its 2022 Wildfire Crisis Strategy the ambitious goal of treating an additional 20 million acres of National Forest System land over the ensuing decade.




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