Now if you're really old, say a hundred and twenty, you can remember when much of Pennsylvania was cut over and looked like this scene of Oil City, PA in 1910.
As the cities of the country grew and settlements expanded, most of the wood that was growing out there was needed to meet the apparently insatiable appetite for wood that these growing communities required. But the expansion itself, caused in no small part by the development of raw material markets such as oil, contained the seeds of a decreasing demand for wood. The scarcity of wood itself and the resulting higher prices for it caused opportunistic Americans to seek cheaper alternatives, and as these industries grew, the voracious consumption of wood began to decline. This trend, which I call a natural (or market) constraint on the harvesting of the forest resource, has continued on to this day.
And all the while consumption of wood was declining (our commenter Jonathan gave us a good analysis of this phenomenon), the forest rebounded strongly on the strength of the vitality of our temperate climate and rich soils. For most of the last century, the rise in productivity of the lumber and paper industries kept pace with the growth of the forest. But gradually, and especially in the post WWII decades, much of this American industry began to move to other countries, and the demand for our timber began to fall further behind its use.
The reason these wood industries moved on, simply put, is the free market nature of our economic system. U.S. companies were free to seek cheaper feedstock for their plants, and eventually, it became cheaper to move the plants to other countries than to bring the feedstock to the plant. The reasons our timber became more expensive than other countries are many and could be the subject of a book, but suffice here to say that we have some of the most expensive timber in the world, even though the demand for it is lagging further and further behind the growth (in many parts of the country, the growth rate of the forest is three times or more than the harvest of it.)
These reasons are mostly related to government regulation and confiscation, which I call unnatural constraints on the harvest of our forest. (Others, however, would call these natural social constraints...I agree that they are natural, in a socialist society.) These unnatural or socialist constraints, in combination with the natural, capitalistic constraints of the free market, have created a condition that I believe is a national disgrace...the poor stewardship of our forests, which limits the harvest of our natural forests to high-grading for lumber that leaves an inferior, denser, less robust forest in its wake, and often leads to the huge wildfires we have been experiencing since this trend began.
Now government in its wisdom is creating an unnatural demand for a resource that is unnaturally constrained, in biomass feedstock subsidies and energy taxes in the form of carbon credits deriving from their desire to attain artificial policy objectives. These actions will increase the price of fossil fuels coal, natural gas, and oil, which in turn will increase the price of the very feedstock they are trying to promote, since timber harvesting costs are greatly impacted by gasoline and diesel prices.
Naturally, then, the success of the "incentive" programs will be limited. Taxpayers will help build large, wide-area, high production facilities that would not be economically viable unless they are subsidized, and eventually, when the subsidies are eliminated, the facilities will no longer be profitable and will be closed by the companies...and the stated objective of transitioning to alternative energy sources will become a dream dearly lost.
Unless, we take the road less traveled, and promote small, local, efficient biomass projects.
Darn, I started the GoWood blog to keep it light and enjoyable. Failed miserably in this post. I'll switch gears for a while. :-)