Forest products, a traditional mainstay sector in Idaho, continues to play an important role in many Idaho communities. Idaho’s forest products sector — logging, wood product mills, paper factories and furniture manufacturing — provided more than 11,700 jobs in 2018. In addition, a few thousand more worked at trucking companies transporting logs, wood products and pulp.
Employment has grown 35 percent from the recession-caused low point of 8,705 in 2010, but it is still 18 percent below its 2006 peak of 14,327 and far below its heyday in the 1970s.
Source: Idaho Department of Labor
The job losses mostly resulted from the impact of technology, which allows a mill to produce twice as much lumber today as it did 25 years ago with the same number of workers and from reduced timber harvests from Forest Service land following changes in policies that occurred in the 1990s. From 1990 to 2000, the timber harvest on federal lands in Idaho fell from 704 million to 149 million board feet.
Recent tariffs imposed on Canadian softwood lumber should reduce the amount of lumber the U.S. imports from Canada and boost the Idaho lumber industry this year. Softwood lumber — made from pine, fir, cedar and spruce — is mostly used for framing new houses.
Last year, according to Wood Resources Quarterly, imports from Canada accounted for 32 percent of lumber used in the United States. Less competition from Canada should boost U.S. mills’ profits, production and employment.
The countervailing duties on Canadian lumber imported to the United States range from 3 percent to 24.12 percent, averaging 19.88 percent. The U.S. Commerce Department plans to impose additional fees that would mean some lumber importers would face duties as high as 30.88 percent. Commerce says Canada is unfairly selling lumber in the U.S. below production costs, aided in part by improper government subsidies.
The new tariff is the latest step in a 35-year-old trade dispute between the two nations. U.S. lumber producers argue that the Canadian government unfairly subsidizes its lumber industry, since most timber cut in Canada comes from provincial forests. Provincial governments set prices administratively and are lower than if they were set in a competitive market. Under U.S. trade remedy laws, foreign trade benefiting from subsidies can be subject to a countervailing duty tariff to offset the subsidy and bring the price of the commodity back up to market rates.