The U.S. forest products sector is very dynamic, and contributes a substantial amount of employment, income, manufacturing sales, and value added to rural forest economies throughout the country. Overall, forest products comprise about 1.5% of the total U.S. economy, and contribute about 5% of total manufacturing output in the country. Furthermore, the forest products sector is one of the top three contributors to most southern state economies.
The forest products industry creates incentives for property owners to manage their forests rather than convert them to other uses with a higher financial return, such as development. These working forests deliver many ecosystem services that society values—fresh water, carbon sequestration and storage, erosion control, natural disaster mitigation, biodiversity, recreation, foods, and medicinal plants.
The industry also provides markets for the by-products of forest management and restoration, such as small timber from hazardous fuels reduction and after-fire salvage harvests. In some areas of the West and interior Alaska, the lack of a forest products industry means that owners have no financial incentive to improve forest health. These owners must then decide whether to restore their forests at their own expense, for the benefit of all.
The United States is both the biggest consumer and the biggest producer of forest products, making almost 30 percent of the world’s forest products in all major categories.
The size and organization of the forest products sector have changed over recent decades because it is a cyclical industry, sensitive to fluctuations in the domestic economy and to long-term changes in output markets, consumer preferences, technology, and global economic growth.
The overall trend in the U.S. share of global production, mostly made up by solidwood products and pulp and paper, has been decreased production in most categories. For some products, the decline has been evident since the 1960s; others have slipped since the late 1990s. Trends point toward further declines, even while domestic production of particular products, such as wood pellets, increases.
By Joyce El Kouarti
When most people think of forested lands in our country what comes to mind are public wild lands like the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon or the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. But the reality is most forests in America, nearly sixty percent, are owned by private landowners who very much rely on these lands for income that helps to fuel the economic health of rural communities.
So because forests continue to be threatened by wildfire, attacks by insects and diseases, and conversion to non-forest uses, forty years ago, on July 1, Congress passed the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act of 1978. The Act was designed to mitigate these threats by empowering the USDA Forest Service to partner with state forestry agencies, which typically match federal investments 2 to 1, to provide technical forest management assistance to landowners.
Today the Forest Service Cooperative Forestry programs, created through the Act, help individual and family forest owners balance timber management with the conservation of water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, wildfire management, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
One of these programs is the Forest Stewardship Program, which each year helps connect more than 400,000 landowners with the information and tools they need to manage their woodlands for timber, fuel wood, wildlife habitat, water protection, and recreation.
Another example is the Forest Legacy Program, which offers economic incentives to permanently conserve private working forests that support strong markets for forest products. The program recently helped private forest landowners in Georgia conserve 26,000 acres of well-stocked long-leaf pine forests that are now actively managed for timber, wildlife habitat, and watershed protection with new areas opened up for hunting, hiking, and mountain biking.