MEDFORD, Ore. — The Western lumber industry had its worst year in 2009 since records have been kept and the outlook for this year is even more dismal.
The Mail Tribune says statistics from the Western Wood Products Association show just 10.4 billion board feet of lumber were produced last year in 11 states, the lowest annual volume since figures were first compiled in the late 1940s. Production in each of the states dropped by double digits from 2008.
A board foot is equal to a square foot of lumber 1 inch thick.
Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association spokesman Dave Schott told the newspaper that 2010 totals may be worse because of the continuing recession and poor housing market.
The statistics released Thursday show Oregon mills produced 3.8 billion board feet worth $875.7 million in 2009, the most in the nation. Washington was second at 3.2 billion board feet worth $828.3 million, followed by California with 1.4 billion board feet worth $468.6 million.
Idaho produced 1.1 billion board feet worth $301.1 million, and Montana 418 million board feet worth $110 million.
The association said it combined figures in the remaining states to protect the confidentiality of the fewer individual mills. It found South Dakota and Wyoming produced 192 million board feet valued at $60.1 million, and the four corner states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah 167 million board feet worth $43.8 million.
Nationally, 11.8 billion board were produced, off 19.5 percent from 2008.
Schott said a record 2.15 million housing starts nationwide in 2005 dwindled to just 554,000 in 2009, the lowest total since World War II.
Earlier this year, industry officials projected between 650,000 and 700,000 starts in 2010.
“We’ll be lucky to get 550,000 now,” Schott said. “It will probably be less.”
The lowered estimate is based on private sector job losses, continuing mortgage defaults and industry worries over federal spending and state government debt, he said.
Low demand also forced down prices for lumber products from 170 Western mills. The estimated wholesale value of 2009 production was $2.69 billion, down 26 percent from 2008. Five years ago, the mills produced 19.3 billion board feet of lumber valued at $7.7 billion.
Before the recession, Schott said, half of lumber sales went for home construction, 25 percent for home improvement projects and the remainder for commercial uses.
“Right now, the allocation to new construction is between 20 and 25 percent with the majority going to repair, remodel and do-it-yourself work,” he said.
“It’s a function of how bad the economy is and how bad housing starts are,” said R.J. Roberts, regional human resources manager for wood products giant Boise Cascade. “We’re crawling our way out of it. Everyone just keeps hoping during the course of time we will dig our way out of this.”