Long fire season detrimental for building log inventories

Hakan Ekstrom, Wood Resources International LLC
November 30, 2017
By Hakan Ekstrom, Wood Resources International LLC
Nov. 30, 2017 - Overshadowed by B.C.'s unprecedented wildfire season, the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana also experienced a significant and disruptive wildfire year. 

By early September, almost two million acres of forest and rangeland had burned in the U.S. Northwest. Harvest operations across the four states have been hampered by restrictions on operating hours, disruptions in transportation, and loggers diverted to fighting wildfires. In Montana, several sawmills had to close operations intermittently in the 3Q/17 due to the proximity of wildfires. Full harvest operations resumed after late September rains, though whether there was sufficient time to replenish sawlog and pulplog inventories before winter conditions set in remains the key question for many log procurement managers this fall. 

Unlike B.C. and its large provincially-owned commercial timber base, the loss of burnt timber on U.S. federal forests has had little impact on the availability of timber with the exception being Montana, where regular timber sales from federal lands have proven crucial to selected sawmills. In general, however, the U.S. Forest Service timber sale program provides minimal sawlog or pulplog volumes to the forest industry in Western U.S.

With lower harvest levels in the Northwest due to wildfire-risk constraints, local sawmills expanded their procurement into small-diameter chip-n-saw grades and higher quality pulplogs that typically would be used by the region's pulpmills. This less valuable log source, resulting in lower lumber yields, has still been profitable for many sawmills thanks to the high prices for softwood lumber during 2017.  

The increased competition for small-diameter logs has resulted in a dwindling supply of traditional pulplogs normally available for pulpmills and independent chipping operators, with pulplog inventories in August reaching their lowest level since the 2Q/14. The low level of pulplogs in the region's pulp industry this late in the season is a major concern among wood fiber managers in the U.S. Northwest as they seek to build adequate inventory levels of logs for the winter season when residual chip supply from the lumber industry typically declines. 



The North American Wood Fiber Review (NAWFR) has tracked wood fiber markets in the US and Canada for over 30 years and it is the only publicationthat includes prices for sawlogs, pulpwood, wood chips and biomass in North America. The 36-page quarterly report includes wood market updates for 15 regions on the continent in addition to the latest export statistics for sawlogs, lumber, wood pellets and wood chips.

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