Housing-Generated Timber Price Slump Seen Curtailing Reforestation; Small-Tree Shortage Likely In Coming Decade

ALBANY, Ga., Aug.7 — A cutback in timber harvesting due to the housing slump has reduced reforestation in the South likely leading to a shortage of small-size trees for new wood-using industries in 10-15 years, a forestry authority asserts.

Marshall Thomas, president of F&W Forestry Services, Inc., based in Albany, Ga., one of the nation’s largest forestry consulting and management firms, says many timberland owners are withholding their mature, lumber-size trees from the market because of low prices and slack demand from sawmills. The prolonged housing decline has sharply reduced lumber and wood panel production.

Thomas, whose firm provides timber sales and other forestry services to small and large landowners in 13 Southern and Border states, said the housing-dependent segment of the forest industry is in a near-depression state.

“At the very least, I think it is fair to say that we are in a depressing situation,” he wrote in his company’s quarterly newsletter,” the F&W Forestry Report.

Thomas said landowners on average are receiving about 30 percent less from a “clear-cut” timber sale than three years ago at a time when inflation is rising and fuel costs are skyrocketing. As a consequence, he says, many landowners are simply holding on to their trees.

“Reduced sales result in reduced forest regeneration,” he said. “If this trend continues it could significantly impact the volume of small wood available in 12 to 15 years.”

Reforestation in the South has declined in recent years and is now estimated to be about a million acres annually, down sharply from the ’80 and ’90 decades.

“This is a long-term business,” Thomas said, “and just as the excess planting of the mid-1980s caused prices to decline in the early 2000s, it is likely that that reduced planting will result in a shortage of small wood in about 12 years. Our forests are aging at a time when most new wood-based industry is looking for small trees.”

This was a reference to the potential demand for woody biomass as fuel for conventional power generation and for cellulosic ethanol production, both of which are emerging in the South. Plants that produce OSB wood panels also utilize small-size trees, as does the pulp and paper industry—a traditional large wood user in the South.

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About F&W

F&W Forestry Services, Inc., of Albany, Ga., is one of the nation’s oldest and largest forest consulting and management firms. Established in 1962, F&W operates 16 offices in 10 states comprising the Southern pine belt and the central hardwood region of the U.S. It also manages private forestlands in South America with offices in Uruguay and Brazil.

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