Global Markets and the Health of American Forests: A Forest Service Perspective
The United States is rich in forests, yet about 39% of the softwood lumber used by Americans in 2005 came from other countries (WWPA 2006). In fact, the United States has not been “self-sufficient” in lumber (with exports exceeding imports) for more than 40 years. According to Haynes et al. (2007), the trade deficit in lumber has grown from 4.1 billion board feet (bbf) in 1962 to 23.4 bbf in 2005, and it is projected to rise to 26.7 bbf by 2050. Is this cause for alarm? It might be—not only for forest-dependent communities and families, but also for the Nation and the world. The United States faces growing ecological threats from fire and fuels, invasive species, loss of open space, and climate change (Bosworth 2003, 2006.) All call for restoration work, often funded through silvicultural work, such as repairing disturbed areas, altering forest structure and composition, and replanting native vegetation. However, if foreign competition forces firms in the American forest-products industry out of business, how will the work get done? Moreover, if imports displace domestic forest products, American timber might lose profitability. More timberland might then be sold to developers, further shrinking open space. For the sake of argument, we shall assume that a healthy forest-products industry is indeed necessary to sustain America’s forests. Can domestic roundwood producers stay in business in the face of rising foreign competition? There are no simple answers, because there are at least wo tales to tell—a tale of decline and a tale of opportunity.