Every year it’s estimated the average U.S. citizen uses the equivalent of a tree 100 feet tall, and 18 inches in diameter. We use 3.5 times more wood than we did in 1970. Yet, despite our leadership in the sustainable logging and manufacturing of softwood and hardwood lumber, the United States is a net importer of wood products. These are important facts as policymakers continue to raise concerns about illegal logging abroad and the safety of imported wood products here at home.
Timber harvesting in the United States has remained well under sustainable limits. For the past 50 years, removals have remained below two percent of standing tree inventory, while net tree growth was near three percent. Currently, the volume of annual net timber growth is 36 percent higher than the volume of annual timber removals. The gap in net growth and removal is even larger on federally-owned forests, where harvests have declined over 80 percent over the past 20 years. Much of this overgrowth has contributed to an increase in unnaturally severe catastrophic wildfires.
Meanwhile, deforestation rates continue to climb in countries in Asia, Africa and South America, which commonly source wood products exported to our country. A significant portion of this wood is illegally logged. And over the past year, a major retailer has made national headlines for selling imported wood products with high levels of certain chemicals linked to high cancer rates.
For years, a complex web of counterproductive federal forest policies have significantly reduced sustainable forestry and wood products manufacturing in the United States. Because there will always be demand for wood products, it should come as no surprise to some that our supply has been outsourced to other countries that don’t share our concerns for consumer safety and conservation.
American forestry has significantly evolved over the past several decades. Thanks to advances in science and technology, it is possible to sustainably harvest timber and manufacture wood products while maintaining the health and productivity of our forests — public and private. If environmentalists and policy makers are serious about combating illegal logging abroad, they should support increasing the supply of wood fiber here at home.
Increasing the domestic supply would require restoring balanced management to the over 30 percent of our nation’s forests owned by the federal government. Reasonable reforms would boost American manufacturing, reduce imports made of illegally sourced material, help restore the health of forests around the world and support good jobs for working Americans.