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Pacific Northwest timber industry: As prices slide, job fears grow | The Columbian

Lumber prices have plummeted over the past 10 months, casting an uncertain pall on a sector that’s been a harbinger of economic downturn in the past. It’s worrying news for Cowlitz County, home to more forest product jobs than any other county in the state.

After peaking at $582 per 1,000 board feet in May 2018, the price of Douglas fir is down to $390 this month, according to Nasdaq commodities data, and experts are unsure of what to expect next.

“We’ll see some slowness this year, maybe continuing into 2020, but then longterm the potential is still there for growth,” forecasts Daniel Stuber, vice president of operations at Forest2Market, which reports on the industry. But that growth is far from certain.

Prices reached record highs last year and the drop could be a rebound back to normal, Stuber said. But global tariffs are slowing lumber exports, and investments in the southern U.S. could make Pacific Northwest lumber less competitive. And there are troubling hints of slowing housing construction, with housing starts and building permits both lower this year than in 2018.

If construction continues to stall, the 12,300 Cowlitz County residents whose jobs are tied to logging and wood products processing could be the first to feel an economic slowdown that has the potential to reach far beyond local sawmills.

That’s what happened 12 years ago, when the price of wood was one of the first hints that a major recession was on the way, said Cindy Mitchell, public affairs director for the Washington Forest Protection Association.

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Pacific Northwest timber industry: As prices slide, job fears grow | The Columbian.

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