Seeing the Forest for the Lumber

Timber harvested from federal lands is one source of the billions of board feet of softwood lumber the U.S. produces annually. Recently, this source has been gradually increasing year by year due to shifts in policy and U.S. Forest Service management practices. Harvest totals are projected to continue their upward trend, and if that trend sustains, increased supply can potentially decrease lumber volatility. In 2017, 2.9 billion board feet of timber were harvested with a 2018 goal of 3.4 billion growing to 4 billion in 2020.

Changes in forest outlook have led to more active management that gets timber volume out to the market. Among those is the economic impact increased timber production has on small towns that depend on lumber mills as an economic base. Additionally, increases in forest fires, specifically in the West, have lead Forest Service management to take a more active approach to prevent further devastation.

A number of legislative changes have helped make the recent increase in timber volume possible. Categorical Exclusions (CE) help the Forest Service streamline National Environmental Policy Act requirements allowing the Forest Service to open more federal land for easier harvest and sale into the market. The omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act that passed in March 2018 included a wildfire resilience CE designed for harvest deemed necessary to curb forest fire risk. Increasing harvest and supply availability is encouraging for the construction industry. Regular and consistent supply of federal timber will ease volatility and stabilize markets positively impacting U.S. housing.

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