According to official statistics, the US timber harvests were practically the same in 2015 as in 2011, coming in at 355 million m3. This appears to be quite low considering the log demand by the U.S. forest industry. Analysis based on derived log consumption by the forest industry in the U.S. and net log trade, indicates that the actual removals of industrial roundwood were closer to 411 million m3 in 2015, and 10 per cent higher than in 2011.
The major reasons for the increase in log consumption over the five-year period include higher lumber and wood pellet production. Softwood lumber production was up by as much as 21 per cent from 2011 to 2015, while production of hardwood lumber increased 28% over the same period. The wood pellet sector, which is concentrated to the Southern States and is targeting the European market, has increased six-fold in five years but still consumes just over three percent of the total timber harvest in the US.
About the substantial rise in both softwood and hardwood lumber
The substantial rise in both softwood and hardwood lumber production in the U.S. over the past few years has resulted in a higher percentage of the timber removals being shipped to sawmills in 2015 than in 2011. Over the same period, log consumption by the country’s pulp mills and log exports have declined.
Log exports from the U.S. West Coast to Asia fell quite substantially from 2013 to 2015. In just two years, shipments were down 33 per cent to six million m3 in 2015. Reduced demand for U.S. export logs has not been limited to China the past few years but to Japan and South Korea as well. A combination of less demand for logs by sawmills in Asia and a strong U.S. dollar has resulted in US log shipments falling to their lowest levels in five years. However, during the first eight months of 2016, exports were up 13 per cent as compared to the same period in 2015.
Historically, there have been minimal exports of logs from the U.S. South. This started to change in 2011 when about 200,000 m3 of pine logs were shipped to China, and by 2014 the volumes had almost quadrupled with India and the Dominican Republic being added to the list of destinations. In 2016, export volumes have picked up again and have been about 50 per cent higher than in 2015.