The decline in lumber production is historic, U.S. Forest Service economist Bill Luppold told Huber. "I don't even think the numbers demonstrate how bad it is," Luppold said. "We haven't seen this amount of decline year in and year out since the early part of the [20th] Century." In 1999, the industry produced 12.6 billion board feet; this year, Luppold expects 10.5 billion. "Timber jobs nationwide fell almost 13 percent to 8,790 in 2006 from 9,910 in 2000," Huber notes. "The number of logging equipment operators has declined more than 17 percent to 28,300 in 2006 from 34,180 in 2000."
As if globalization and a housing bust weren't enough, homeowners have lost their taste for red oak, "the most common hardwood in much of Appalachia" and Arkansas, Huber reports. "Now, lighter- grained species, especially maple and poplar, are in vogue," and the price for red oak lumber has fallen 35 percent. That translates to lower timber prices for woodland owners.
Virginia Tech professor Urs Buehlmann told Huber that sawmills in Western Europe are surviving by getting into manufacturing of made-to-order furniture and cabinets. "They're pretty much customizing the kitchen to your specifications," he said. "I strongly believe this will be the guide." (Read more)