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Forest Resources Center’s Matthew Pelkki on Why Timber Industry Isn’t Falling

3 min read

Matthew Pelkki has written more than 100 scholarly articles and been a lead investigator in 27 projects involving more than $6 million in research funding.

Pelkki has a bachelor’s in forestry from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Minnesota’s College of Agricultural & Natural Resource Sciences.

The Arkansas Forest Resources Center brings together interdisciplinary expertise through a partnership between the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the University of Arkansas at Monticello. The center is headquartered at the UAM campus in conjunction with the School of Forestry & Natural Resources, but its programs range statewide. Pelkki holds the George H. Clippert Endowed Chair in the School of Forestry & Natural Resources at UAM.

What are the biggest issues facing the Arkansas timber industry today?

Access to markets, logging capacity and forest health.

And what should be done to address those issues?

1. Market access for Arkansas’ timber will be improved though joint recognition of all major forest certification systems (Sustainable Forestry Initiative, American Tree Farm System) by the U.S. Green Building Council, which now recognizes only the Forest Stewardship Council certification system. Recognizing the SFI and ATFS will allow more Arkansas timber to be used in LEED-certified construction and lower the cost of these programs to landowners.

2. Logging capacity in the state declined by some 25 percent from 2007 to 2013 and is slowly rebuilding. Existing logging firms need access to low-interest-rate guaranteed loans and support for training programs to develop a younger logging workforce that can take us well into the 21st century. Improvements to rail, intermodal and navigable waterways in Arkansas are crucial in lowering the cost of transporting timber to mills for processing.

3. Currently, Arkansas’ forests are in excellent health. Each year in Arkansas, we are adding 17 million to 20 million tons of trees to our forest; this is growth above all removals and mortality. This trend is happening in all of the 13 Southern states. We are adding nearly 200 million tons of live trees each year to the South’s forests. This “wall of wood” represents a supply surplus that will take years for the timber industry to harvest and process, even at prerecession demand levels.

This supply is at risk from insects, disease and fire, and these risks are exacerbated by recent droughts and the arrival in Arkansas of exotic pest species such as the emerald ash borer. Research on forest health, promotion of forest management and the harvest and use of this surplus supply will help us manage and reduce health risks to our forests.

Do you expect demand for timber, both softwood and hardwood, to ever again reach prerecession levels and if so, when?

The demand for timber, both in roundwood form for export and in processed forms of lumber and engineered wood materials, will rise above prerecession levels within the next five years. The Panama Canal expansion will improve access to Asian markets for logs and pulp, and we are developing new forest products that will expand the use of wood in the U.S. as well. Biodegradable computer chips will lessen toxins in landfills, nanocellulosic surfaces can trap bacteria and prolong food storage and nanocrystals boost concrete strength.

These are just a few among many 21st century wood products we will see in the coming decade. We are also building 10-plus-story wood-framed buildings, with 30-plus-story designs in the works. And wood energy, in the form of pellets, is being co-fired with coal to reduce carbon emissions in Europe; soon this technology will be expanding into the U.S. While demand will rise, the huge surplus in timber supply will keep prices near historical lows for long into the future.

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