Q. I read in Woodworking Network about sawmills closing in the western U.S. and western Canada, but more opening and expanding in the southern U.S. What is happening?
First, understand that this trend is for softwood sawmills making construction lumber. When we look at sawmills closing in the West, the big reasons are the lack of timber to harvest (U.S. Forest Service and BLM forestland dominate in the West, perhaps controlling over 80 percent of the forest), the stiff competition from China that exports a large portion of harvested logs, and the lack of employees for low-pay jobs. Markets for lumber also require rail service for shipping any distance and this is an issue.
In the South, pine trees can be ready for harvest in 20 years, so trees are usually considered to be a crop. Replanting after harvest is easy and less expensive in the South as well.
In many areas, the pine forest has been harvested four or five times already in the past 150 years, with another harvest coming. These forests are mainly privately owned, as well. Further, transportation costs for logs and lumber are not high.
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