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Forest Products Extension

Wood Products Use In Tennessee – Can Supply Meet Demand?

A recent conversation about the sustainability of wood products use and production in Tennessee stimulated a quick check of the data and some rough calculations. The question was not only whether harvest levels are sustainable but also whether we cut enough trees to supply our need for wood products.

The supply of wood products is fairly well understood, thanks to data collected by the Forest Inventory & Analysis unit of the Forest Service. The state Division of Forestry reports that forests of Tennessee are growing by 749 million cubic feet (mcf) per year, while 163 mcf are lost to “mortality” (insects, disease and fire).

Demand can be expressed in two ways: either as actual timber harvest levels in the state or as consumption of wood products (which can come from outside the state). The Division of Forestry reports that 384 mcf of timber are harvested each year in Tennessee . Wood products consumption data for Tennesseans is not available, but a 1999 report from the Forest Service states that per capita consumption of wood in the United States was 74 cubic feet per year in 1997. This was a slight decrease over previous years, due to product substitution, more efficient use and paper recycling efforts, so the current value may be slightly less than that value.

To be able to compare supply and demand, we can use the 2000 census to get the Tennessee population of 5,689,283. Also to put the values into terms that easier to understand, we can convert the cubic feet values to “board feet”, which is a piece of wood equal in volume to 12” x 12” x 1” thick. For example, an eight foot long 2x6 ‘stud' contains 8 board feet of lumber. The following table shows the results of these calculations.

Estimated supply and demand for wood in Tennessee
  Board feet per person per year
Supply Forest timber growth
1580
(minus mortality)
(-344)
Total supply
1236
 
Demand Harvest of timber
810
or
Consumption of wood products
888

Wood products are traded as global commodities and the wood products used in Tennessee are consumed throughout the United States and around the world. Likewise, the wood products that are consumed by the people of Tennessee mostly come from outside the state. Nevertheless, these numbers suggest that the forests of Tennessee are capable of producing timber volumes equivalent to the wood products demands of the people of state. However, at the moment, timber harvest is only equal to about 90% of the per-person consumption. Thus forest harvesting in Tennessee would be significantly higher if we were supplying our “fair share” of timber to the marketplace.

Global consumption of forest products is expected to rise in the future and Tennessee has abundant, and growing, forest resources. Thus it is likely that forest harvests in the state will increase in coming years. How high harvest levels will go is hard to predict, but the data suggest that big increases in wood products demand could be met by the forest supply.

The Temperate Forest Foundation has a website with information on sustainable forestry.

Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email