WV'S TIMBER INDUSTRY IN SLUMP - Globalization's Big Whammy

By Bob Weaver

While state officials are preparing for what could be one of the worst forest fire seasons in years, the timber industry is facing a major slump.

The timber industry is in crisis because of competition in the global market, foreign outfits are shipping logs and wood products at a fraction of the USA cost.

John Crites, owner of Allegheny Wood Products, said his firm has to compete against lower-quality wood products made in China to look like furniture produced from American hardwoods.

Virtually all of the USAs furniture making industry has left the country, although it was produced by what many consider low end wages.

Crites wants the legislature to give him and other timber operators a tax break and do away with the state's 4 percent severance tax on timber.

County assessors seem unclear about that tax and how it has been collected and re-distributed.

During Cecil Underwood's administration, timber growers were granted a 66% tax break with the passing of the Managed Timberlands Bill.

The bill was suppose to have helped the little woodlot grower improve their crop, but about 90% of the advantage went to corporate timber operations.

Rural, forested counties lost several million dollars of revenue that could have been used for local services and infrastructure.

About 30% of Wirt County's forested land is owned by timber corporations, mostly by Heartwood, who purchased the land from Westvaco.

While most Wirt Countains are assessed at $500 an acre for land, Heartwood is assessed at less than $100 per acre.

The timber corporation pays about $75,000 taxes on over 42,000 acres, according to Wirt County assessor Debbie Hennen.

Since Heartwood purchased the large holdings, they have discontinued the replanting of trees and gone to "natural reforestation," despite the fact they are "getting paid" to manage their timberland.

America's furniture companies have moved abroad, and furniture is being processed by U.S. firms in Chinese factories, Crites said.

Crites, critical of the globalized market, said by fooling the public into believing their faux-cherry furniture is real cherry wood, companies also drive down the amount consumers are willing to pay for real cherry products.

During the past nine months Crites said, the price he receives for all hardwood timber is down, except for white oak.

A European "building boom" has kept white oak prices high because it looks like its European counterpart.

Crites said one thing the state's timbering industry does not want or need is a Chinese trade office.

European timber has not been cut since World War II and is ready to be brought to market he said.

Russia, which has rail lines into China, can more easily market its product to the largest nation in the world.

Crites said "Siberia has more timber than we're going to need in the next 100 years," saying it is not hardwood.