Timber forecast: cautiously optimistic


These are promising economic times for the timber industry, but it’s important to note how low timber sales have been the last few years, and that the latest numbers, while encouraging, are not yet reason to jump up for joy.

That sentiment is on full display in some recent media coverage of the industry. The Kitsap Sun in Washington notes that the market is up for power poles because of the high demand for alternative energy sources, which in turn is driven by generous government subsidies.

The market for saw logs is also improving, according to the story, though Washington state timber officials say it’s still too early to tell whether there will be a major upswing in timber production.

Jon Tweedale, of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, said his agency is approving more timber sales, but watching the market carefully.

Private timberland owners are meeting the demand, but they are not jumping back into logging in a major way, said Tweedale, DNR’s assistant division manager for timber sales and marketing. Everyone is being cautious, because new-home construction is still depressed.

The Sun story also says that some surprising demand could come from China, which is looking to build more wooden homes after the 2008 earthquake that killed 87,000 people.

The Peninsula Daily News, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, has a similar observation about an earthquake that shook Chile in February. The Chile earthquake did not increase demand per se, but it did cut supply because a lot of mills there were shut down.

The Daily News also asked local loggers about their forecasts for the industry:

“We’re hoping for the best, but we are also realistic,” said Jim Woodward, manager of Interfor Pacific’s planer mill in Forks.

Demand for lumber in the United States is expected to increase this year by 6.1 percent to 32.9 billion board feet after reaching “modern lows” of about 31 billion board feet last year, according to the Western Wood Products Association.

The lumber trade association anticipates demand will reach 36.1 billion board feet in 2011 as new home construction recovers.

The projection is good news for Woodward and the managers of the Port Angeles Hardwood and Peninsula Plywood mills, but they don’t foresee demand returning to its pre-recession level anytime soon.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Keith Harris, Port Angeles Hardwood mill superintendent.

In other news, the head of the Alaska Forest Association thinks that the proposed federal plan for the Tongass National Forest will “create a staggering economic loss.”