American hardwood forests under-utilised
Von: Rupert Oliver in Environment
One of the most startling observations in the newly published UNECE/FAO annual review of international wood markets is that "North American sawn hardwood production fell from a peak of 31.0 million m3 in 2000 to 23.2 million m3 in 2009, raising concerns that the hardwood forest resource is now seriously under-utilised”.
At a time when global demand for commodities is set to rise and when there is a critical need to shift the emphasis to sustainable carbon-neutral materials it seems crazy that the world’s largest and most diverse hardwood resource is “under-utilised”. The latest United States Resources Planning Act (RPA) assessment published in 2010 demonstrates the remarkable fact that over the last 50 years, the inventory of hardwoods standing in U.S. forests has more than doubled as harvesting levels have remained well below the level of growth.
It seems that, quite apart from the recent severe economic downturn, a wide range of longer-term factors are contributing to declining North American hardwood production. The American hardwood forest is largely controlled by small family forest owners for whom management for timber is often only a secondary consideration. Levels of awareness of the need and value of sustainable forest use are still low. Many policy makers and consumers have been so influenced by environmental campaigns that they have a negative perception of any form of timber harvesting. At the same time, logging professionals have been leaving the industry tempted by lucrative opportunities in other sectors. Declining log demand, rising insurance costs, elusive financing and higher fuel costs all contributed to the downsizing. Meanwhile opportunities in the U.S. domestic market have been undermined by the long-term decline of the North American furniture and flooring industries as consumers have switched to cheaper imported products.
Solutions to these problems lie partly in raising awareness of the value of active hardwood forest management in the United States, partly in expanding markets for American hardwood products and thereby increasing the financial returns to be derived by small owners from this management, and partly in ensuring full recognition in wood and carbon markets and in wider policy circles of the environmental benefits of American hardwoods.
AHEC has a critical role to play through its efforts to expand export markets and to increase understanding of the environmental profile of American hardwoods – most recently by commissioning comparative analysis of the environmental life cycle of American hardwoods and competing products in export markets.
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