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Natural Resource Sector, Forestry
South supply, lumbermen, slash pine, Pacific states, forest practices
In the 1990s, less than 1 percent of the countryís workforce was involved in the lumber industry, and forestry accounted for less than 0.5 percent of the nationís gross domestic product (GDP). Nevertheless, forests represent a crucial resource for U.S. industry. Forest resources are used in producing housing, fuel, foodstuffs, and manufactured goods. The United States leads the world in lumber production and is second in the production of wood for pulp and paper manufacture. These high production levels, however, do not satisfy all of the U.S. demand for forest products. The United States is the worldís largest importer of lumber, most of which comes from Canada.
When European settlers first arrived in North America, half of the land on the continent was covered with forests. The forests of the eastern and northern portions of the country were fairly continuous. Beginning with the early colonists, the natural vegetation was altered drastically as farmers cleared land for crops and pastures, and cut trees for firewood and lumber. In the north and east, lumbermen quickly cut all of the valuable trees before moving on to other locations. Only 10 percent of the original virgin timber remains. Almost two thirds of the forests that remain have been classified as commercial resources.
Forests still cover 25 percent of the United States. The trees in the nationís forests contain an estimated 7.1 billion cu m (249.3 billion cu ft) of wood suitable for lumber. Private individuals and businesses, including farmers, lumber companies, paper mills, and other wood-using industries, own about 73 percent of the commercial forestland. Federal, state, and local governments own the remaining 27 percent.
Softwoods (wood harvested from cone-bearing trees) make up about three-fourths of forestry production and hardwoods (wood harvested from broad-leafed trees) about one-fourth. Nearly half the timber output is used for making lumber boards, and about one-third is converted to pulpwood, which is subsequently used to manufacture paper. Most of the remaining output goes into plywood and veneer. Douglas fir and southern yellow pine are the primary softwoods used in making lumber, and oak is the most important hardwood.
About half of the nationís lumber and all of its fir plywood come from the forests of the Pacific states, an area dominated by softwoods. In addition to the Douglas fir forests in Washington and Oregon, this area includes the famous California redwoods and the Sitka spruce along the coast of Alaska. Forests in the mountain states of the West cover a relatively small area, yet they account for more than 10 percent of the nationís lumber production. Ponderosa pine is the most important species cut from the forests of this area.
Forests in the South supply about one-third of the lumber, nearly three-fifths of the pulpwood, and almost all the turpentine, pitch, resin, and wood tar produced in the United States. Longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly, and slash pine are the most important commercial trees of the southern coastal plain. Commercially valuable hardwood trees, such as gum, ash, pecan, and oak, grow in the lowlands along the rivers of the South.
The Appalachian Highland and parts of the Great Lakes area have excellent hardwood forests. Hickory, maple, oak, and other hardwoods removed from these forests provide fine woods for the manufacture of furniture and other products.
In the 1990s the forest products industry was undergoing a transformation. New environmental requirements, designed to protect wildlife habitat and water resources, were changing forest practices, particularly in the West. The amount of timber cut on federal land declined by 50 percent from 1989 to 1993.
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