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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 30, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Timber still cuts a big footprint in state economy

We built this city on…no, not rock ‘n’ roll, but logs. Long before “Bill Luck” (Boeing and Gates), the Seattle and the Northwest economies were heavily dependent on timber and wood products. A new survey based on 2010 data from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources shows the sector still has some heft. “Though housing and global economic crises have deeply affected the industry, Washington’s wood products in 2010 were worth nearly $5 billion. Overall 5 percent more wood was consumed by the industry in 2010 than in 2008. Due to a vigorous demand by China, Washington’s export log sector grew 39 percent between 2008 and 2010.”

Among the other highlights: The 5 percent increase over 2008 in total volume of logs consumed by the primary wood products operations came after 10 years of declines; lumber mills used 67 percent of the total wood used by mills in the state; pulp mills made the highest revenue; almost all wood for the shake and shingle mills came from tribal forests. Meanwhile, from 2006 and 2010, the volume of lumber produced by Washington’s sawmills dropped 32 percent. Still, volume of lumber produced was enough to build 180,000 houses.

One of western Washington’s advantages is the relatively fast time (30 years) that Douglas fir and related species can reach a size that can be harvested. “A single acre of trees grown to a rotation age of 60 years can yield 30,000 to 60,000 board feet, enough to build two to three average-sized homes.” Georgia, the second largest producer of logs in the U.S. has annual yields of 3,000 to 10,000 board feet per acre.

Many mills have closed, of course, and hurt communities in the process. Kimberly-Clark’s paper mill in Everett shut down this month, affecting 750 workers. The old Northwest milieu of small mill towns and generations working these difficult but well-paid jobs is largely gone. Weyerhaeuser is a shell of its once mighty self. Environmental concerns have constrained logging, and the overall industry has been slammed by the housing crash. Now the big opportunity is exports to China.

You can download the entire report here.

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Comments | More in Weyerhaeuser, Wood products

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