Recently I was contacted by a lawyer who was representing a Tennessee landowner in a ‘timber trespass' case. A logger had cut over the line onto his clients' property and the lawyers and judge involved were figuring out how much compensation the landowner deserved for the lost trees. This case, while not uncommon, reminded me that, in this country, timber theft is the exception that proves the rule: the rule of law that governs land ownership and timber harvest is generally obeyed. This is in contrast to some other countries and could prove to be an advantage for the forest products industry in the US as it seeks to compete in the global marketplace.
Illegal logging is a significant problem in some countries, where it can lead to deforestation and a loss of revenue for landowners. Illegal logging also hurts the global (legal) forest industry when it undercuts the value of timber products. Illegal harvesting overseas is estimated to cost the US forest industry $1 billion per year. However, there is increased awareness of illegal logging and its negative impacts, and increasing efforts to combat the activity.
In response to the increased clearing of its vast forest resource, the government of Brazil is stepping up enforcement of forestry laws. For example, a Swedish-owned company was recently fined $275 million for alleged illegal logging activity in the Amazon. Here in the US , the most recent Farm Bill includes new rules to monitor the origin of imported wood products in an attempt to prevent illegally-logged wood from entering the country. The forest certification schemes (e.g. FSC and SFI) that are becoming a more important part of the forest products trade worldwide also include rules that prevent illegal forest harvests.
As forest certification becomes more widely accepted, and as consumers and government authorities increasingly scrutinize the supply chain of forest products, this could increase the market share available to the US forest industry, where the legality of the harvest is generally assumed.
The forest resource in the United States is large and growing. It also contains high-value tree species whose wood properties are well understood and accepted in the marketplace. These are significant competitive advantages in the world wood marketplace. Add to those advantages the presence of a well-established and law abiding forest industry and it is very likely that the United States will be a major producer of wood products to the world for some time to come.