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Oregon is top timber producer in worst year

The only solace timber operators and workers might find during the Western states' lumber industry's worst production year on record was that Oregon remained the top producer.

The Western lumber industry in 2009 posted its worst year for production in modern history, according to final statistics compiled by Western Wood Products Association.

Final statistics released Thursday by the Western Wood Products Association showed Western states produced 10.39 billion board feet of lumber in 2009, the lowest annual volume since industry statistics were first compiled in the late 1940s. The previous modern day low was in 1982, when 13.7 billion board feet of lumber were produced at Western mills.

Oregon mills produced 3.8 billion board feet worth $875.7 million.

Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association spokesman Dave Schott said as bad as 2009 was, 2010's totals might plummet further with the general economy and housing market both in the tank.

National housing starts that typically ran between 1.4 million and 1.5 million before the boom years — in which a record 2.15 million starts were recorded in 2005 — have dwindled to less than a quarter of the high and a third of normal.

"There were 554,000 single- and multiple-family starts in 2009," Schott said.

It was the lowest annual total since 1945, when 326,000 houses were built. Industry figures optimistically projected between 650,000 and 700,000 starts earlier in the year. That's no longer the case.

"We'll be lucky to get 550,000 now," Schott said. "It will probably be less."

There are three primary contributing factors to lowered expectations, he said:

  • Private sector job losses, including 155,000 in Oregon.
  • Continuing mortgage defaults, spurred on by those job losses.
  • Industry concern over federal spending and state government debt.

Low demand contributed to even lower prices for Western lumber products from 170 mills. The estimated wholesale value of the 2009 production was $2.69 billion, down 26 percent from 2008. Five years ago, Western mills produced 19.3 billion board feet of lumber valued at $7.7 billion.

Before the recession, Schott said home construction accounted for half of lumber consumption. Another 25 percent of wood production went to repair and remodelling projects with products bought at Home Depot, Lowe's and similar home improvement outlets. The remainder went to commercial uses, such as furniture and cabinets, telephone polls and cable reels.

"Right now, the allocation to new construction is between 20 and 25 percent with the majority going to repair, remodel and do-it-yourself work."

Swanson Group has announced plans to shut down its sawmill in Glendale. That will leave Thomas Lumber — a JeldWen unit — in Klamath Falls and Rough & Ready Lumber Co. outside Cave Junction as the lone remaining sawmills in the region.

"It's a function of how bad the economy is and how bad housing starts are," said R.J. Roberts, regional human resources manager for the wood products giant Boise Cascade. "We're crawling our way out of it. Everyone just keeps hoping during the course of time we will dig our way out of this."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.