Rough year for sawmills

by Western Wood Products Association

PORTLAND, Ore. – Sawmills in the 12 Western states weathered a rough year in 2008, according to final production figures compiled by Western Wood Products Association. While the difficult conditions for mills are continuing into 2009, the start of a recovery is expected in 2010. Softwood lumber production at mills in the 12 Western states declined for the third straight year, falling to 12.995 billion board feet in 2008. The total was down 20.4 percent from the previous year and represented the lowest annual Western volume since WWPA begin compiling statistics in the 1950s.

Prices received for lumber declined even more steeply. The estimated wholesale value of Western lumber was $3.66 billion, a decrease of 40 percent from $6.1 billion set in 2007.

WWPA compiled the final industry totals for 2008 following its annual survey of some 185 mills operating in the continental West.

Oregon remained the largest lumber producing state in the country, despite a significant drop in production. Sawmills in the state produced 4.7 billion board feet, some 23.5 percent less than in 2007. The wholesale value of Oregon’s lumber was nearly 43 percent lower at $1.26 billion.

Output from Washington state mills declined 18.4 percent to 3.89 billion board feet. California lumber production totaled 1.92 billion board feet, down 16.8 percent from 2007.

A similar decline was seen in other Western states. Idaho lumber production totaled 1.34 billion board feet, down 23.3 percent. Montana mills produced 668 million board feet, a decrease of 15.4 percent. Mills in South Dakota and Wyoming totaled 243 million board feet and those in the Four Corner states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah produced 211 million board feet. Volumes in these states were combined to maintain confidentiality of individual mill data.

A 33 percent drop in housing starts shrank U.S. lumber consumption to 41.9 billion board feet, down 19.8 percent from 2007 totals, or a drop of just over 10 billion board feet. Housing starts totaled 906,000 in 2008, the first time starts have dipped below 1 million since World War II.

The downturn in lumber production and demand has continued into 2009. Western lumber production is down 26 percent so far this year and housing starts have declined by 46 percent. WWPA expects lumber markets to recover, although slowly, starting in 2010.

Western Wood Products Association represents lumber manufacturers in the 12 Western states. Based in Portland, WWPA compiles lumber industry statistics and delivers quality standards, technical and product support services to the industry.

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