Janet Steele, Area Forestry & Wildlife Agent
Current and Emerging Markets for Costal SC Landowners Meeting held in Harleyville. With the recent announcement of the closing of the WestRock paper mill in North Charleston, there have been many questions in the forestry community related to the pulpwood market and how this could impact forest management strategies and potential new timber markets. Over 65 members from the Tri-County Forestry Association (Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester Counties), the Orangeburg-Calhoun Forest Landowners Association, and the Lowcountry Landowners’ Association (Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper Counties) met on Tuesday, July 25, 2023, at the Dorchester County Career and Technology Center for a panel discussion. Invited speakers addressed these questions and provided insight into managing and selling timber in the current markets and what future demands for wood fiber may become available.
Mac Rhodes, forester and forest landowner, provided a landowner’s perspective on the impacts of the mill closure and the considerations he will make to shift part of his land management to non-timber income streams. Mac reviewed the trends in stumpage prices versus lumber prices in the last 15 years. While stumpage prices have decreased since the late 2000s, the cost of all wood products continues to increase. This is due to the high volume of wood on the SC market compared to the amount needed by the industry. He feels the increased focus should be on exporting surplus wood fiber to other countries.
Cam Crawford, CEO of the Forestry Association of South Carolina (FASC), focused on the South Carolina Forest Recovery Task Force. The task force was established to address challenges facing the South Carolina wood supply chain due to the recent mill closures. The task force will focus on increasing the capacity of wood consumption of existing forest product manufacturers in the state. This will include their increase in wood procurement from counties where WestRock North Charleston previously procured timber. The task force will also focus on attracting new wood product manufacturers to the state.
Tim Adams, Division Director for Resource Development with the South Carolina Forestry Commission (SCFC), addressed the economic impact the mill closure had on not only the mill employees but the trickle-down effect their loss of jobs had on local communities and businesses. The SCFC is working on attracting other forest industries to the state and has traveled abroad and hosted foreign investors to discuss the potential expansion of their businesses into South Carolina. The SCFC also maintains the state’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data, reflecting the current wood growth and removals on the state’s timberlands. This information supports SC’s ability to develop additional forest industries that rely on a sustainable wood supply.
George Grice, a forestry consultant with Sabine & Waters Inc., provided insight from the consulting perspective on what he is telling his clients about the impacts the mill closure may have on their forest management strategy. He stressed that landowners need to base their management decisions on their timberland’s health, not solely on what the timber markets are doing. Like Mac, he feels that non-timber resources, such as forest carbon, can provide additional sources of income to forest landowners.
The consensus across the panel is that no one has a crystal ball to see where the timber markets will be in the coming months. But, they are all hopeful that the healthy, productive forests of South Carolina will draw new industry to the state and that current manufacturers will be able to offset, to some extent, the closure of the West Rock mill by increasing their wood procurement.
For additional information on the SC Forest Recovery Task Force and other activities of the Forestry Association of South Carolina, visit https://www.scforestry.org/. You can find additional information on the South Carolina Forestry Commission’s economic development work at https://www.scfc.gov/development/.
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