Pacific Northwest Faces Critical Timber Supply Shortage: A Call to Action for Congress

The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) today urged the Pacific Northwest’s Congressional Delegation in Washington, DC to take action to address challenges to the region’s forest and wood products sector that supports more than 150,000 private sector jobs in Oregon and Washington and provides critical infrastructure for the federal government to improve forest health, reduce wildfire risks on federal lands, and help meet growing demand for carbon friendly wood products.

In the association’s letter to the delegation, AFRC President Travis Joseph writes that Western Oregon has experienced the closure or curtailment of three wood product mills since the beginning of the year, and additional closures and curtailments in the Pacific Northwest are likely to occur.  The common thread is a diminishing timber supply to the region’s wood products manufacturers.

“All three Western Oregon mills that announced closures or curtailments this year are surrounded by some of the most productive public forestland in the country,” Joseph said.  “All three mills purchase and rely on public timber to operate and sustain workforces.  All three mills cited the lack of timber supply as a significant factor in the decision to close or curtail operations.”

AFRC’s letter highlights several factors contributing to this supply crisis.  These factors include the aftermath of the 2020 Oregon Labor Day fires that decimated a vast swath of timberland, reducing timber availability for decades into the future.  Additionally, legislative and policy changes, such as the Oregon Private Forest Accord and state forest management plans in Oregon and Washington, are further reducing the supply of raw materials to these manufacturing facilities.

“In plain terms, log prices are driven by supply and demand.  In the Pacific Northwest, current milling demand for logs, driven by public demand for wood products, is higher than current and projected log supply.  Either regional log supply needs to increase to meet public demand, or the Pacific Northwest will experience additional mill closures and losses in critical workforce.  We can meet this demand by responsibly managing our forests in the Pacific Northwest, or this demand will be met in other parts of the U.S., and from countries that do not share our social and environmental values,” Joseph writes.

As regional mills continue to experience closures, curtailments and layoffs, Joseph writes that millions of acres of federal lands are at imminent risk from catastrophic wildfires, insects, and disease.  Federal forests are in desperate need of science-based, active management and restoration, which all depends on the existing and remaining forest sector infrastructure, including modern and efficient mills, loggers and forest contractors, truck drivers and equipment operators, and the vast supply chains the forest sector supports.

Congress has responded by providing $6 billion to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to accelerate the pace and scale of treatments to remove hazardous fuels loads, improve forest health and resiliency, and to protect communities, property, infrastructure, and public health.  The Forest Service also proposed in its 2022 Wildfire Crisis Strategy the ambitious goal of treating an additional 20 million acres of National Forest System land over the ensuing decade.

“A logical outcome of historic Congressional investments to accelerate forest health treatments on millions of acres of at-risk Federal forests would be additional log supply to support the local infrastructure and workforces required to do the work,” Joseph writes.  “This has not occurred in the West.  In fact, log supply from Forest Service and BLM lands in the Pacific Northwest has remained flat or decreased since the passage of the BIL and IRA.  In Western Oregon, for example, the BLM timber program for Fiscal Year 2024 has been arbitrarily reduced by more than 25% from the previous year.  These cuts also represent a 25% shortfall below the timber levels directed in the BLM’s current Resource Management Plan.”

In response, AFRC urges Congress to undertake specific actions to reverse this trend.  These include providing oversight ensuring the Forest Service and BLM enhance log supplies to mills, engaging in forest management planning processes, and exercising caution in legislation that might restrict responsible active forest management.

“A healthy, robust, resilient forest infrastructure and workforce are symbiotic with healthy, robust, resilient forest ecosystems,” Joseph said.  “In the Pacific Northwest, the continued reduction of available, predictable, affordable timber supply from all forest ownerships has led and will lead to mill closures, the loss of forest sector jobs and expertise, and negatively impacted communities and local businesses.  If the Federal Government is going to be successful in addressing the current federal forest health and wildfire crises – and protect the extraordinary social, environmental, economic, and cultural values of our public lands – it must sustain and grow the forest infrastructure and related workforces.”

Joseph encouraged the delegation to recognize the Pacific Northwest’s potential to manufacture carbon-friendly wood products to help the United States decarbonize homes, offices, schools, and other buildings. At last year’s COP28 conference in Dubai, the United States joined 16 other countries to announce support for substantially increasing the use of wood products in construction as a “vital decarbonization strategy.” This strategy can’t be achieved without a viable forest and wood products sector here at home.

“There is historic opportunity and momentum to meaningfully address our forest crises for the benefit of all.  That opportunity is slipping by as more mills close, more forest sector jobs are lost, and proactive, intentional management [on public lands] becomes more difficult to implement on the ground,” Joseph said.