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Forestry and Forest Products


The forestry and forest products industry is focused on wood and its uses. Wood is used to build houses, furniture, flooring, shipping containers, and many other products. Forest products also include wood pulp, which is used in making paper. Wood used to make commercial products is referred to as lumber. Among the steps that occur to turn a tree into a commercial product are harvesting and removing trees, converting the raw material into finished products, and marketing and distributing these products.

Most of the nation's lumber production comes from commercial forests, and of that, 91 percent of wood harvested comes from privately owned forests. Forest products account for about 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). The American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) reports that member companies produce about 85 percent of pulp, paper, paper-based packaging, and tissue products produced in the United States. Forestry and the forest products industry employ more than 950,000 workers in a wide range of jobs, ranking in the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states.

Professions in the forestry and forest products industry include foresters and forestry technicians who plant and tend trees; forest scientists who work to protect forests from fire, insects, and diseases, and manage forests so only selected types and numbers of trees are moved; loggers or timber fallers who harvest trees; graders who sort the felled trees according to quality, size, and type of wood; and manufacturing workers who convert raw lumber into finished wood products for consumers to buy and use.

Many lumber companies maintain tree nurseries to replant the timberlands and need workers to fill related jobs. This industry also employs workers to market and sell wood products, including those with business management and marketing skills, wholesalers who buy lumber in large quantities and then resell it to retail lumber yards or other large users of the lumber, and retailers and others who sell the lumber to individual customers. Numerous industries use the resulting product—lumber—but the construction and building sector is the largest market. Wood is also used in various manufacturing industries, such as in the making of furniture, cabinetry, toys, or tools.

The entire industry is sensitive to economic cycles. When the economy is depressed, people buy fewer things made with wood. The wood industry is linked closely to trends in housing construction, repair and remodeling construction, and furniture production. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) predicts that employment for laborers in the construction industry will grow by nearly 11 percent through 2028. However, employment for timber cutting, logging, and sawmill workers is expected to decline sharply during the same period, by an average of 14 percent, because of increased mechanization. Computers can now be used to perform such tasks as sorting logs on a conveyor belt and determining the most cost-effective method of cutting them.

One area of the industry that is expected to grow more quickly than other areas is that of wood science and technology. Because of environmental pressures to maximize the use of and minimize the waste of wood being harvested, specialists in this field are becoming more necessary. In addition, wood products face increasingly stiff competition from plastics and other wood substitutes. Manufacturers need wood science experts to keep their operations profitable, efficient, and competitive.