The American Lumber Industry

America’s lumber industry started way back during it’s colonial era, in where subsequent colonization of the British empire bought radical change to the American colony, after England slowly found out that it has almost depleted their own supply of natural wood. This made England turn it’s head towards the new world, particularly, America as it’s new source of timber supply which could provide an alternative source in regards to their domestic and overseas trade demands. Before sourcing out raw timber in America, the British empire imported their timber from across the Baltic seas, through the winding and narrow channel passages between Denmark and Sweden. Given the condition that the transit posed many difficulties and that it took more time to travel to and from England because of the Baltic sea’s rough waters.

By the late 1790’s, New England was already exporting an estimated 36 million feet of board pines and more than 300 ship masts in a yearly basis on which 75% percent came from Massachusetts and Maine and another 20% percent from New Hampshire. Come early 1830, Maine had become one of the world’s largest shipping port that was exclusively handling lumber exports to England. It was estimated that 8.7 trillion board feet of premium timber was exported during the last 60 years and when it came at the end of the 19th century, only 2,800 board feet remained standing out of the 5.2 billion board feet that the American forest originally had before England started to import it’s timber.

In England, English forests of old hardwoods have already been in near decimation by the 13th century, and by the 1540’s, what was remaining of England’s forests were now being consumed by British factories as fuel sources due to it’s growing iron industry. This alarming situation prompted the British parliament to pass a legislation called “The Act for the Preservation of Woods”, which in 1543, prohibited the cutting of trees that were located 440 yards from landed property, but by the 17th century, even these reserved wooded territories were already depleted as well, forcing the price of firewood to increase between 1540 and 1570, eventually leaving the poorest of the poor to literally, freeze to death.

The advocation on the proposition to exploit and colonize North America came from Richard Hakluyt, an archdeacon of Westminster Abbey in 1584. It was Hakluyt’s impression that North America was the answer to the British empire’s dwindling lumber supply and that harvesting the colony’s natural resources would secure England’s foothold as a supreme world power during that time. Hakluyt estimated that establishing a lumber industry in the colony would in itself pay for the cost of developing the colony without costing the British empire so much, but it will eventually be a provider for the empire’s needs. By this, Hakluyt was preferring to the colonies established in Virginia.

By this, Hakluyt, along with 7 other men formed the Virginia Company and by April 10, 1606, the Virginia Company was split into 2 separate groups namely the London Company that was based in England and the Plymouth Company by virtue of the First Charter of Virginia that was decreed by King James I. The charter was the first official royal decree stating England’s ownership of Virginia. On December 20, 1606, three sips namely the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery made their way down the river Thames under the helm of Captain Christopher Newport. On April 26, 1607, the London Company finally landed in Virginia and declared their settlement as Jamestown in honor of King James the First. No sooner than they had founded Jamestown, the London Company immediately started shipping trees back to England. During the grueling winter of 1609, 154 colonists died because of the bitter cold that fell upon the colony, and it had halted the exportation of timber to England for the next 11 years.

Today, the United States employs to about 500,000 people in their lumber industry’s three main products namely, Logging, Sawmill and Panel. America’s lumber industry is one of the categories in the economy that was not affected much by the global financial crisis that happened in 2008, and is still a stable industry regardless of the past economic events. A major industry that is relied on by many people, it has an estimated 30 billion board feet in terms of annual production and is also considered as one of the most hazardous in regards it’s industry job description. Canada has been one of the most closest rivals of the United State in regard to lumber production and exportation as Canadian timber products can rival the best of what the Americans can produce. In truth, Canada has more forested areas than that of the United States which produces almost the same type of trees, but due to the fact that Canada is less densely populated than the United States might be one of the reasons why Canadian lumber production lags behind the U.S. Because of it’s lack of inadequate manpower.

Despite of the stiff competition that Canada poses in regards to market share, The United States still remains ans the world’s largest exporter of wood in the whole world, which is primarily exported to countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico and Japan. Because of higher labor costs in the United States, it has become common practice for most raw materials such as wood to be exported outside of the country and returned as finished products that is imported back into the United States. Other wood products such as hardwood floors, plywood, veneer and wooden panels have higher imports into the United States than it is exported out from. There has been a renewed revival of logging towns all across the United States as the lumber industry begins to focus it’s attention to the housing recovery program which fell during the 2008 financial crisis. As many can remember during the 2008 financial fall resulted in the reduction of almost all government funded housing programs to a stand still.


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