|By ANN ALLEN
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Noting that the United States consumes more wood every year than all metals, plastics and masonry cement combined, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a 125-page report on federal research and product development activities related to the utilization of wood.
Requested by Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in July 2004, the report is a comprehensive evaluation of the federal government’s ability to assist the industry with better utilization and development of its natural products.
“Trees hold great economic importance for our state,” Lugar said. “Indiana forests contribute over $9 billion dollars to our economy annually and our 4.3 million acres of timberland support 54,000 jobs. While Indiana has been a national and world leader in forestry and forest-based manufacturing, it is imperative that we invest even more in this industry’s future.
Nationwide, the wood product sector employed 535,000 people in 2004. The United States also leads in pulp and paper business, employing 440,000 workers.
The report said approximately 120,000 jobs were lost in the paper-manufacturing sector from 1999-2004. During the last decade, the wood household furniture industry lost approximately one-third of its market share to imports.
Although many agencies have provided support for wood utilization research and product development, the Forest Service has the most experience in this area - it has been conducting wood utilization research since 1910, a period when large trees still predominated and many woodsmen saw no end to them.
However, the Forest Service’s budget for product research declined nearly 30 percent since 1980 in inflation-adjust dollars with an accompanying loss of 46 percent of the Forest Service’s research scientists from 1985-1999.
“The GAO report highlights the dilemma we face,” said Chris Risrudt, Ph.D., director of the Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis. “Senators Lugar and Cochran have performed a real service by asking the GAO to look at this issue.”
Lugar, recipient of the 2002 Tree Farmer of the Year Award and the Black Walnut Achievement Award, sees the report as a vehicle through which research and development can be stimulated.
“The goal was to pool resources to help the wood industry as a whole and connect small business and manufacturers with the necessary tools to navigate the future of the hardwood industry,” he said.
Lugar, a member and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition, has championed programs such as Conservation Reserve Program and farm Best Management Practices, which have resulted in the increased potential of trees and crops to sequester CO2 and other gases. The CRP, the largest tree-planting program in history, has resulted in millions of acres being planted to trees since 1985 and millions more left as grasses and not tilled.
A copy of the GAO report is available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d06624.pdf or, after July 22, at http://lugar.senate.gov/walnut.html
This farm news was published in the July 19, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.