The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) on Thursday, April 11, 2013 urged Congress to support draft legislation unveiled by House Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) that would require the U.S. Forest Service to actively manage its commercial forest lands and increase timber production on federal lands, thereby helping to ease lumber price volatility and keep the nation’s forests healthy.
“The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act would encourage increased production on federal timber lands, while at the same time remain mindful of important environmental considerations,” said Justin Wood, vice president of construction for Fish Construction NW Inc., based in Portland, Ore. “This legislation will go a long way toward helping rebuild the supply chain and reviving local mills and timber companies, while ensuring the continued recovery of the housing industry.”
Testifying on behalf of NAHB before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, Wood said that the legislation would benefit rural communities and boost harvesting on federal lands by requiring the federal government to implement active forest management plans.
“I live in Vancouver, Washington, which is approximately 10 miles from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest,” he said. “In our wooded rural neighborhood, the county encourages land owners to remove dead and diseased trees, including dead undergrowth, to reduce the risk of forest fires. It is confusing to the residents of the area that we follow these recommendations, while the policies are not implemented in the federal forest just a few miles away.”
With lumber one of the most volatile-priced building materials and a major component in home construction, Wood also pointed out that proper federal forest management policies are tied to affordable housing.
NAHB research shows lumber and wood products account for 15 percent of the cost of construction for a single-family house. Lumber prices soared as the housing recovery gained momentum in 2012. For example, prices of oriented strand board, an engineered wood product, are up 92 percent since last April. Framing lumber is also seeing price increases upward of 28 percent.
These higher costs drive up the cost of construction, which in turn, drives up the price of a new home. This is of particular concern in the affordable housing sector, where relatively small price increases can have an immediate impact on low- to moderate-income home buyers.
“NAHB research shows that for every $1,000 price increase for a median priced new home, over 232,000 households can no longer afford that home,” said Wood.
Another factor fueling rising lumber prices is that global demand is also up, especially in China, and U.S. exports have doubled in the last five years. There will be additional upward pressure on lumber prices as the housing industry recovers unless additional supply can be brought into the market.
“Federal forests supply a mere 2 percent of the wood used by the forest products industry, and it is important for Congress to take a deep look into what barriers the Administration is facing in pursuit of increased harvesting on federal lands,” said Wood. “Chairman Hastings’ bill would ease escalating price pressures, allow responsible timber production to occur on federal lands, protect the environment and help keep housing affordable for hard-working families.”