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West Coast lumber exports surge in 2011, thanks largely to China

West Coast lumber exports surge in 2011, thanks largely to China

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West Coast log and lumber exports in the first nine months of the year already have surpassed exports for all of 2010, largely because of Chinese demand, the U.S. Forest Service reported Monday.

Along the entire West Coast, log exports reached 1.5 billion board feet from January through September, up from 1.4 billion board feet in all of 2010, the Forest Service's Portland-based Pacific Northwest Research Station reported. Lumber exports in the same region were 785 million board feet through September, up from 717 million in 2010.

Forest Service research economist Xiaoping Zhou noted that Chinese wood imports have skyrocketed in recent years, rising 4,000 percent from 2005 to 2010.

At Weyerhaeuser Co.'s Longview log-export dock, Japan remains the largest log purchaser, but Chinese growth is high, company spokesman Anthony Chavez said. In the first three months of 2011, China's share of Weyerhaeuser exports was 24 percent, up from a 6 percent share during the same period of 2010, Chavez said.

"There's a rabid urbanization and overall growth in China," he said. About one-third of Weyerhaeuser's logs in Oregon and Washington timberland are exported to Asia, and everything else is sold domestically, he said.

Company analysts are starting to see a slowdown in the Chinese market, Chavez said. Chinese officials, worried about inflation, have tightened credit requirements, which is leading to a slowdown in the construction industry, he said.

At the Port of Longview, about 220.7 million board feet of logs passed through the port's docks in the first 10 months of the year, nearly 37 percent more than in all of 2010, according to port records. Port officials say Chinese demand is driving the increase.

Zhou said that rising Russian timber export tariffs and decreasing U.S. domestic demand have increased China's demand for U.S. logs and wood products.

Timber industry consultant Dick Woods of Longview said small family tree farms in the region depend on strong export markets, especially during downturns in the U.S. housing market.

"We're extremely lucky to have the export market right down at the port dock."

Japan remains the steadiest customer for Pacific Northwest growers, and Woods said he expects Chinese demand will start to level off.

 "They tend to buy all of their wood at once," Woods said.

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