U.S. Underutilized Hardwood Forest To Meet Growing Global Demand

“Underutilized” Hardwood Forest Resource In The U.S. To Meet The Growing Global Demand For Sustainable Hardwoods

By Michael Snow, Executive Director American Hardwood Export Council Reston, VA

“Underutilized” Hardwood Forest Resources In The U.S. Poised To Meet The Growing Global Demand For Sustainable Hardwoods

“… there is growing concern that the U.S. hardwood forest resource is now seriously underutilized.”

That was the rather startling conclusion drawn by the United Nations Timber Committee in the recently published UN/ECE 2010 Forest Product Market Annual Review. At a time when global demand for commodities is rising sharply-led in by exploding middle class in Asia, India and Latin America – and when there is a critical need to shift the emphasis to sustainable carbon-neutral materials, it seems crazy that the world’s largest and most diverse hardwood resource is currently being “underutilized”.

A closer look behind this phenomenon reveals some interesting trends. The latest United States Resources Planning Act (RPA) assessment published in 2010 demonstrates the remarkable fact that over the last 50 years, the inventory of hardwoods standing in U.S. forests has more than doubled as harvesting levels have remained well below the level of growth. At the same time, production of sawn hardwoods in the U.S. has declined steadily over the past decade, from a peak of just over 31 million m3 in 2000 to under 22 million m3 in 2010 according to the UN. The man factors contributing to this reduction are well-documented. Opportunities in the U.S. domestic market have been undermined by the long-term decline of the North American furniture and flooring industries as globalization has led to increased availability of less-expensive imported products. More recently, the economic crisis and collapse in new home construction, remodeling and commercial construction along with increased substitution of cheaper NDI and substitute products have put a dent in hardwood flooring, component and molding sales.

Many well-meaning (if less well-informed) environmentalists may welcome declining levels of harvesting in the U.S. hardwood forest in the mistaken belief that this contributes to long-term forest preservation. If only it were so simple. A wide range of wildlife species actually benefit from active management, particularly the small-scale harvesting that is typical in the American hardwood forest. Species like deer, bear, numerous song-birds, grouse, and turkey benefit from the feeding and log-level ground cover provided by a newly cut forest. Harvesting of mature trees also forms a critical part of management regimes designed to reduce the risks of widespread pest and fire damage. Now scientific studies are showing that the carbon storage potential of forest land can best be maximized by harvesting mature trees to supply markets for long-lasting timber products such as construction, flooring and furniture. And perhaps more to the point, in areas where population is high or rising, active management of forest materials is essential to ensure resource values are maintained and to discourage conversion to other uses such as urban development or the establishment of fast-growing monoculture plantations for the production of pulp or even bio-fuels.

So, where is the silver lining in all of this? Increased export availability. Recent years have seen exports as a percentage of U.S. production climb rapidly. In fact, an estimated one-third of all graded hardwood lumber from the U.S. is now exported. Growing foreign demand is vital to the long term health of our industry AND out foressts. As Asian and other global economies continue to increase their appetite for environmentally-friendly materials, the U.S. hardwood industry has the potential to ramp up production to satisfy this demand without straining our forest resource. That is certainly a “win-win” proposition for all involved.

For more information on AHEC and the export promotion programs, call (202) 463-2720, fax (202) 463-2787, or visit the website, www.ahec.org

As seen in Import/Export Wood Purchasing News

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