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:: Home > The People > Timber and Lumber Imports > Hot Topic: Importing

The Controversy of Importing Wood Products

What is the heart of the controversy about imports? Like other resource management issues, it is quite complex.

Importing wood pests.

When logs and untreated wood products are sent outside their native range, the wood can serve as a vehicle for tree pests and diseases. These pests and diseases have been known to travel from other regions of the world to Oregon, where forest and garden trees sometimes carry on the infection.

The American elm versus Dutch elm disease.

One example of such an imported pest is Dutch elm disease, which has severely impacted American elm trees since the 1930s. Dutch elm disease is a fungus that ultimately kills elm trees by clogging water-carrying root and stem tissues. Native to Asia and identified by a Dutch scientist (thus the name), it was introduced to the U.S. east coast in the 1930s on a freighter of green logs being sent to a veneer mill. By 1960 it had killed about 42 million trees in the Midwest, and was moving west. By 1985 American elm mortality was seen in eastern Oregon, and elm trees were thinned in western Oregon cities and parks to thwart the spread of the disease. Little infection has been seen in western Oregon.

American hardwoods versus the Asian longhorned beetle.

A more recent example of wood acting as a vehicle for pests is the Asian longhorned beetle. In 1996 a landlord of a building in Brooklyn, New York, found an ornamental maple with round holes & sawdust at the base of the trunk. The local Parks and Recreation Department discovered the culprit, a large beetle, which a Cornell University scientist later identified as the Asian longhorned beetle. The beetle traveled as larvae inside crates to the U.S. eastern ports, probably to Brooklyn. The crates had been used to import hardware from China. The beetle is damaging and killing hardwoods in certain outbreak areas.

It is now largely controlled, but for how long? Outbreaks have been reported outside of Brooklyn, started from the simple act of cutting and selling infected trees as firewood. Some people fear the Asia longhorned beetle will take its act on the road, potentially moving west towards Oregon.

Increasingly strict rules on importing and exporting logs and untreated wood products certainly help mitigate this situation. And given the imported products we Oregonians consume, we're doing okay. But what if an insect or fungus is introduced to Pacific Northwest forests that kills Douglas-fir trees, nine out of ten trees in western Oregon forests? You get the picture...

What about "exporting environmental problems?"

Three things we know: the population of the United states continues to grow, the per capita consumption of wood products has increased steadily over the last three decades, and the United States currently is a net importer of timber even though states like Oregon have some of the most productive forests in the world. What does this mean? Ultimately it means that we consume wood from other parts of the world, and as a result our consumption drives forest management practices that may not be as environmentally sound as those required by Oregon law.

The debate continues....