John Shelk, Managing Director of Ochoco Lumber Weighs in on Rising Lumber Prices

Lumber prices have skyrocketed in the past year, making headlines across the nation and affecting home prices in a booming real estate market. From March of 2020 to May of 2021, lumber prices increased as much as 377% in some areas. This problem, long in the making due to forestry regulations, infestations and fires, was exacerbated by the pandemic which brought about a lack of labor and transportation plus an increased demand from do-it-yourselfers who took on home remodel projects during the shutdown.

John Shelk, fourth-generation lumberman and managing director of Ochoco Lumber weighs in below:

Log supply is the limiting factor in the western US. The enviros along with democratic administrations have severely constricted timber sales on federal forests and led to the shutdown of a huge number of sawmills in the West in the last 25 years.

Likewise, timber availability has dropped dramatically in Western Canada because of insect infestations in the inland regions of British Columbia and Alberta.  Canada has historically been the moderating influence on US lumber supply in the past, but no more.

The US has been under-building demand in the housing sector for at last 10 years, but the demand has been masked by high mortgage rates and hesitancy to commit to purchase of a big ticket item like a home for young families burdened by education debt.  This has partially been unleashed by low mortgage rates, resulting in higher housing starts than the reduced lumber manufacturing facilities can respond to currently.  Covid also plays into the equation, as we can’t adequately put workers on the manufacturing line with excessive absenteeism associated with the pandemic.

We have the perfect storm in play currently.  We cannot increase production without an adequate and dependable employment base.  Likewise, those of us that depend on public timber- mostly In the Western states, need a dependable supply of timber, unencumbered by appeals and lawsuits, which has restricted timber supply for the last 25-30 years.

There is no quick or easy fix.  It will take time to ramp up lumber production sufficient to satisfy current demand.  This is a problem that is 30 years in the making – it will not be solved quickly or painlessly.

A fourth-generation Oregon lumberman, John Shelk was raised in Prineville. He served in the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry in Germany and Vietnam before going to work in 1970 at Ochoco Lumber Company, where he now is managing director. Mr. Shelk is a World Forestry Leadership Hall inductee and founder of the Shelk foundation which advocates for Eastern Oregon.

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