Idaho’s logging and wood products industries struggle with volatile prices and a sharply reduced amount of timber available for harvest on federal lands compared with a generation ago. But Idaho wood is still a moneymaker, and recent trend lines are mostly positive, said Philip Cook, research scientist for the Policy Analysis Group at the University of Idaho.
“Like any industry, it faces challenges,” Cook said. “But it’s tended to be a steady industry and a steady part of Idaho’s economy, and it should continue to be.”
Employment in logging, wood product manufacturing and supporting industries rose from fewer than 10,000 Idahoans in 2010 to nearly 12,000 in 2014, according to the University of Idaho. Rising housing starts after the Great Recession led to boosts in lumber prices and timber harvests, supporting more than 600 timber-related businesses in the state and 255 manufacturing operations in 2012, according to the Idaho Forest Products Commission.
Forestry and logging jobs paid an average of about $51,000 per year in 2014, a U of I report said. Wood-products manufacturing paid nearly $50,000 and paper manufacturing $83,000. All bested Idaho’s 2014 average wage of $37,957.
WHO OWNS IDAHO TIMBERLANDS?
Idaho has 21.4 million acres of forest land, including 17 million acres of harvestable timber. While the U.S. Forest Service manages nearly half of all land in Idaho, and more than three-fourths of all timberlands, only one-tenth of the state’s timber comes from federal lands. Policy changes in the 1990s have made it difficult for loggers to contract federal land to harvest, increasing the time and paperwork needed to secure timber contracts. Most Idaho timber is felled on land owned by companies such as Potlatch Corp. and Idaho Forest Group.
IDAHO TIMBER’s PEAKS AND VALLEYS
Idaho’s timber harvest fell 13 percent in 2014 but remained 34 percent higher than when the industry bottomed out in 2009. Idaho logging, wood and paper products and business supporting them, such as trucking and heavy equipment, contributed $3.7 billion in sales to the state economy in 2014 and about $1.4 billion to Idaho’s Gross State Product, according the the U of I.
Timber harvesting on federal lands fell dramatically after 1991 amid concerns over water quality, endangered species and the scenic impact of clear-cutting. Court decisions forced the Forest Service to reduce its harvests throughout the Northwest, including in Idaho. The timber industry had to reshuffle its approach again in 2000, when a Clinton administration mandate eliminated logging road construction on roadless national forest federal land.
The industry responded by increasing harvests on private land, though not enough to fully offset the federal acreage lost. The industry suffered greater production losses in 1980 and 2009, when poor economies resulted in less construction.
Cook said 90 percent of the variance in lumber production is directly tied to fluctuations in U.S. housing starts: “When housing starts go down, you see lumber production go down in Idaho.”