Economy cuts into forestry in Oklahoma


Report says stalled housing market threatens struggling Oklahoma industry


Oklahoma's forest industry is struggling with the economic downturn and diminished home building market, according to a draft report by officials with the state Department of Agriculture.

The number of small sawmills is at a low level in state history, with operations closing or reducing their operations.

"Forestry no longer remains the most attractive option for some landowners,” according to the Oklahoma Forest Resource Assessment.

The report was mandated by the latest U.S. farm bill and will be the basis for a new strategic plan for Oklahoma forestry, said state forester John Burwell.

"Some of the end products will be GIS maps showing the distribution of forests in relation to threats such as insect or disease outbreaks, wildfire or urban sprawl,” he said.

But the greatest threat to the industry has been the stalled housing market, the report states.

Warehouses are full of construction materials, the report indicates, and consumers have cut back on their usage of paper goods. This has resulted in less site preparation and planting, which hurts sales of seedlings and chemical applications.

Eastern red cedar could be a bright spot for the state. While there is no established logging of red cedar, the species is so widespread that a market could be established, according to the department’s report.

Oklahoma has about 10 million acres of forest land, and the highest growth rates are in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state.

About 90 percent of Oklahoma forest land is privately owned. Forest-related industries employ about 8,000 workers with an annual payroll of about $300 million.

"I think people will enjoy reading the assessment for the tremendous amount of unique facts and details about the state’s forests,” Burwell said. "It not only identifies the forest resources but also details a complete list of threats, issues and opportunities facing those resources.”

Oklahomans can review the report and take a survey at www.forestry.ok.gov/ofra-draft1.

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