The trees are ready to cut

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

A new federal program in the 1980s offered farmers money to reforest depleted land:

Pine trees appealed to Mr. George. He bought loblolly seedlings and pulled his pickup into a parking lot where hands-for-hire congregated.

“We figured we’d plant trees and come back and harvest it in 30 years and in the meantime go into town to make a living doing something else,” he said.

Three decades later the trees are ready to cut, and Mr. George is learning how many other Southerners had the same idea.

A glut of timber has piled up in the Southeast. There are far more ready-to-cut trees than the region’s mills can saw or pulp. The surfeit has crushed timber prices in Mississippi, Alabama and several other states.

The volume of Southern yellow pine, used in housing and to make paper, has surged in recent decades as farmers replaced cropland with trees and as clear-cut forests were replanted. By 2020, the amount of wood growing per acre of timberland in many counties will have more than quadrupled since 1980, U.S. forestry officials estimate.

It has been a big loser for some financial investors, among them the country’s largest pension fund. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System spent more than $2 billion on Southern timberland, and harvested trees at depressed prices to pay interest on money borrowed to buy. Calpers sold much of its land this summer at a loss. A spokeswoman for the pension fund declined to comment.

It has also been tough for the individuals and families who own much of the South’s forestland, and who had banked on its operating as a college fund or retirement account. The region has more than six million owners of at least 10 wooded acres, say academics and forestry consultants. Many of the owners were counting on forests as a long-term investment that could be replenished and passed on to heirs.


  1. Kirk says:

    This problem stems from the same things that create the effect where if you put the government in charge of the Sahara desert, we’d be suffering a shortage of sand within about a decade…

    Government intervention is something that should only be used sparingly, as a last resort, and with full attention paid throughout in order to prevent these little “unforeseen” issues.

  2. Ezra says:

    Planting of trees on a massive scale just a few days ago suggested as a means of combating “global warming”. A carbon sink of which the United States will play a major role. More trees in the USA now than before the settlers arrived? Could be so.

  3. TRX says:

    I live in Arkansas. Forestry is big here. We send timber and plywood all over the country, and even foreign countries.

    …yet if I go to a lumberyard or big box store, about half the wood for sale is marked “Produit du Canada” and the other half says “made in Ukraine.”

    We make good plywood and 2x4s fifty miles away, but all I can buy is potato-chip plywood and curly-fry 2x4s from thousands of miles away? And even at that, Canada *used to be* a source of decent wood; the stuff on the racks here, we would have put in the “culls and firewood” pile even 20 years ago.

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