Forestry and Forest Products

Forestry and Forest Products

Industry Outlook

The United States has one of the most competitive and highest-volume wood products industry in the world. There are several reasons for this, including the availability of forests that include some of the top tree-growing land in the world, an efficient transportation and distribution system, a skilled labor force, technological advances in the forestry and lumber industries, and adequate energy and water resources. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the forest production industry is the leader in generating and using renewable energy. Additionally, according to the American Forest and Paper Association, two-thirds of America's drinking water comes from forests.

The entire industry is highly sensitive to economic cycles. When the economy is depressed, people buy less of the things that wood is used to make. According to the EPA, prior to the 2008–2009 recession, the United States was the world's leading producer and consumer of forest products. However, in 2012, at the end of the recession, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that China had emerged as a leading producer and consumer of forest products. The U.S. economy has since strengthened, and the United States has regained a leadership position in some categories. In 2019, the FAO reported that, as of 2017, the United States was the top producer in three forest product categories (industrial roundwood, wood pellets, and pulp for paper). China was the world leader in the production of sawnwood, wood-based panels, recovered paper, and paper and paperboard. India was the leading global producer of wood fuel.

The wood industry is linked especially closely to trends in housing construction, repair and remodeling construction, and furniture production. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) predicts that employment in the construction industry will grow at an annual rate of 1.1 percent through 2028, behind only private educational services (1.2%) and health care and social assistance (1.6%).

The Occupational Outlook Handbook reported about 53,600 workers were employed in logging jobs as of 2018. Employment for fallers, logging equipment operators, log graders and scalers, and related workers is expected to decline through 2028. Overall, forestry industry employment is declining because increased mechanization will lessen the demand for these workers.

There were about 32,900 conservation scientists and foresters employed in the United States in 2018, and that number is expected to grow by 3 percent through 2028, according to the DOL. Most growth will occur in state and local governments, because of wildfires, which had become a pressing problem at the end of the decade. Consumer demand for timber and wood pellets also was expected to have a positive impact on employment growth.

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic created an economic downturn that hurt this industry. Forest-related supply chains froze or diminished, causing a sharp decline in exports as international trade slowed to a crawl. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing reduced demand for forest-related products, ensuring that companies without alternate, innovative means to distribute these products were left facing uncertain prospects. While outdoor work in this industry could continue under COVID-19 safety guidelines, restrictions and quarantining shrank the market for forest products. According to an article by Research and Markets, the U.S. forestry industry lost an estimated $1.1 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic. The federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help businesses such as the forestry and forest products industry that have been negatively affected by the pandemic.

As of late 2020, the timber services industry in the U.S. was valued at $1 billion, with about 3,273 businesses and total employment of 7,054. The research group IBISWorld predicts slow but upward growth for this industry through 2025. There will be relatively stagnant demand from paper manufacturers for forestry products and "import competition will likely continue to constrain domestic wood product manufacturing, and thus, demand for domestic timber." One area that has seen an increase in demand is higher margin fluff pulp products, due to the growth of work-from-home policies by many companies. The growing demand for paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, and other such products has created strong demand for softwood lumber that's used in fluff pulp manufacturing and this demand is expected to continue in the coming years.