As part of our ongoing coverage of the Canadian Softwood Lumber Agreement, we would like to direct your attention to this Q&A with the Forest Landowners Association president, Robert Crosby.
The Forest Landowners Association (FLA) recently spoke with Robert Crosby, FLA president and fourth-generation landowner, to get his perspective on the Canadian softwood lumber trade issue and its critical importance to private forest landowners in the U.S.
Q: Robert, for many years now the United States has had a trade agreement with Canada on the amount of softwood lumber that can be imported into this country. It’s easy to understand why an agreement is important to sawmills, but can you explain why landowners should be concerned?
A: There is a lack of understanding that there are two industries that are being damaged – sawmills and private landowners. Right now, the worst damage is being inflicted on private landowners, an industry that doesn’t exist in Canada. In the United States, we have excess inventory of softwood trees and could supply 85 percent of the domestic lumber industry’s needs without adding any additional capacity. With additional investment, American landowners could supply nearly all of the industry’s needs with little to no need for Canadian imports.
This supply issue coupled with the Canadian competition has resulted in the lowest real (inflation adjusted) prices in 60 years. This impact is felt primarily by small landowners, loggers, truckers, service companies, and all those that support forestry in primarily rural communities all over our country, but particularly those in the South and Northwest. The significant drop in revenue from timber sales over the last ten years has placed those communities and families dependent on a fair and competitive timber market at risk.
So, while the Canadian mills are seeing record profits in their Canadian and U.S.-owned sawmills, U.S. landowners and those dependent on their economic viability, including those who own the asset in their pension accounts, are seeing one of the worst markets in modern times. The American media has missed or at least misunderstood this fact, as have many in the government who should be protecting our economic interests and ensuring the industry’s survival.
Q: Wait a second, pensions? I was under the impression that this was a sawmill issue. I see the connection to landowners, but how can it impact our pensions?
A: Besides the millions of private landowners affected by a historically depressed market, there are multiple U.S. pension funds, both public and private, with hundreds of thousands of investors all over the country who have part of their retirement savings dependent on a fair, competitive, and healthy U.S. timber market. Therefore, it’s not only small landowners and their counties and parishes, which depend on the tax dollars that support their public-school systems and roads, that bear the burden, but also teachers in California and firemen in Massachusetts that are seeing diminishing returns in their pensions because of a fundamentally unfair trade agreement with our neighbors to the north.