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Asian demand for logs, lumber boosting West End economy

Shiploads of West End logs are now heading to China and Korea, bringing prosperity to the local timber products industry as well as local forest land owners.

 A booming Chinese economy, reflected in national industrial and commercial growth, is creating a huge demand for the shiploads of logs. Interfor Pacific lumber mills in Beaver and Forks, and in Port Angeles, are also seeing rising demand from China for milled dimensional lumber.

Lumber from the exported logs is being mainly used for wooden pallets, concrete framing and other construction uses not related to house framing.

Port of Port Angeles Commissioner John Calhoun, a Forks resident and recently retired Olympic Natural Resources Center Director, said there is an ongoing low demand in the United States for construction lumber, while construction starts are at full throttle in China. The lower value of the U.S. dollar is also boosting the demand for the West End logs in China and Korea, he said, as well as new Russian timber export policies that are beginning to crimp the nation’s trade with China.

“China is building and we aren’t,” he told the Forks Forum.

This week the CNBC cable network reported that sales numbers for previously owned homes in the nation dropped in February following three months of gains, signaling that the recovery of the home building market is still a ways off.

The boom in log exports is returning the log yard at the Port of Port Angeles to a level of activity unseen since the strong Asian export market of the 1970s and 1980s when Japan was the main importer of West End timber.

“Revenue is starting to flow from the activity,” Calhoun said of income to the Port from the four to six log ships that are now docking each month.

He said the ships are charged an hourly rate while docked in Port Angeles. Pysht-based Merrill & Ring is one of the main firms active at the port in overseeing the shipments of logs hauled to the dock at Port Angeles.

The “serious demand” in Asia for the logs  is also benefiting the local economy and West End residents, Calhoun said. “Without that we’d be sunk; it is keeping our loggers and truck drivers employed…the whole production from Interfor’s Port Angeles mill is going in containers to China.”

He said the local lumber mills would likely be shut down without the Asian market sales.

Logs exported to Asia can only come from private lands, federal and state laws prohibit the export of logs from the national forest or state Department of Natural Resources timber lands, for example.

The higher value of the logs for export is making the sale of stands on private lands profitable. “For the first time in several years this is forcing some wood out (of local private holdings),” Calhoun said. “There’s only so much capacity from Merrill & Ring from their lands.” Because of this the sales of logs is “bleeding down” to private owners of forest acreage.

The steady stream of log trucks heading to Port Angeles with the Asian-market logs is bringing money into the local economy, he said. In addition, sales tax revenue, and a severance tax paid to the state from log sales, bringing new income to local government coffers.

The logging trucks can be seen during the working week, and on weekends, hauling logs from sites spread across the West Olympic forest from Clallam Bay to Forks and down the coast to Hoquiam.

“We’re averaging four to six ships a month” Calhoun said of arrivals of China- and Korea-bound ships at the Port Angeles docks. Most are headed to either the port at Shanghai in China or Incheon in South Korea. “These are big  ships, three to five million board feet each.”

Some cargoes are split with a load picked up at the Port of Olympia, sometimes the whole load is from the docks at Port Angeles.

The Port of Port Angeles is purchasing new heavy equipment for their log-loading facility at Port Angeles, which he said has been mostly idle the past ten years.

“We foresee this lasting for a while,” Calhoun said of the boom market, adding that predictions are being made of at least two to three more years for the strong Asian export market, with hopes the demand will jive with an eventual upturn in the U.S. construction industry.

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