Darned old Canadians; first, they flood us with softwood from their massive northern arboreal forests, and then, just when we think we have ‘em licked with President Trump's timber tariffs, they come down here and buy out our sawmills in the Southeast. They flooded us with a wall of wood, and they bought up our sawmills, so our timber suppliers down here had to sell to Canadian-owned U.S. mills. Shoot. We’re stumped.
To make matters worse, our beneficent Farm Bill provided great subsidies for American tree farmers. The resulting glut of timber going to market has us over a barrel: Too much wood, and a monopoly of Canadian sawmills in the South, one of the last U.S. outposts for viable timber operations. Especially Georgia.
What all this means is that the price of the 2x4 in the Big Box store is rising, but the American tree farmer’s share is flat and has been for some time. If you think General Sherman’s March to the Sea in the American Civil War was destructive, you should see what the current conversion of forest lands to urban housing is doing to the natural world once ruled by woodpeckers. Georgia, where US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue calls home, is paving paradise and building parking lots. Why? Because there’s no money in growing trees over time. Better to sell out to the real estate developers.
You see, the Canadians’ cool, moist conifer forest grows in a wide band, literally from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The Canadian government subsidizes timber companies and sawmills in ways that differ from the way we do things down here. Well, they don’t have a lot of choices, after all, and we do, so we suffer. The Canadians provide a quarter to half of the timber we consume every year, which is a lot. It depends on the year, of course. Lately, it’s been closer to a quarter.
American tree farmers are left wondering how to make a living. It’s hard to support sustainable forestry when an entire nation to the north is focused on becoming our sole supplier. Naturally, we’re fighting back. When I mentioned our unhappiness to a Canadian forestry acquaintance, he merely reminded me that it was Canadian troops that burned the White House a few years back and not British regulars.
Somebody in the U.S. timber industry decided to try counting boards the same was the Canadians do to clarify discrepancies in the lumber wars. We used good old board feet — a one-inch thick board, one foot by one foot — for eons. The Canucks used cubic feet, or a block of wood one foot by one foot by one foot, in a system about as easy to understand as metrics.
I know I was excited. Now I have no sensible way to tell people how many houses we can build from one logging truckload. It used to be one house based on 5,000 board feet per log truckload. Thanks to our new math, it’s now 221 cubic feet to 1,000 board feet, but wood is still sold by the board foot (and it still takes one truckload). Dang it. I’m lost, and so is a lot of productive timberlands, thanks to timber economics getting all foggy on us.
Thank goodness for the Rolling Stones’ musical director and keyboardist Chuck Leavelle. According to Bloomberg, he manages a sustainable timber operation on 4,000 Georgia acres in between Stones’ tours. He’s in there swinging (rocking) for American tree farmers, and he has Perdue’s ear. Maybe now we’ll get some timber satisfaction.