The mill closings have resulted in large loses in jobs and revenue to East Texas communities, said Dr. Darwin Foster, Texas Cooperative Extension forestry specialist.
The number of mills both large and small, has decreased, but as larger mills have become computerized and automated, they have also become more efficient. Less wood is wasted to produce lumber, paper and other wood products.
More efficient means less need for labor. With many communities depending heavily on the forest products industry, these changes present serious challenges, Foster said.
For Texas, timber represents $12.9 billion in direct industry output, a number which includes money received for harvested trees as well as wholesales prices received for wood products. The total economic impact is an estimated $22.1 billion per year. In East Texas, brings in 35 percent of the region's agricultural income. This translates to 80,000 wood-based jobs and $2.9 billion in wages and salaries yearly.
Lost mills also means changes for those growing timber, as automated sawmills need less timber, and have little use for smaller trees. Paper mills, of which two were lost, also used smaller trees, Foster said.
Timber growing is a long-term venture. Many growers counted on the mills continuing to need all their timber, even smaller trees that are periodically thinned so larger trees can grow.
Ironically, as Texas mill capacity has remained about the same, Texas' demand for wood has increased several fold. From 1982 to 2003, softwood consumption increased from 380 million cubic feet to 488 million; hardwood consumption from 70 million to more than 111 million, according to a U.S. Forest Service inventory.
In the same time period: