The Uncertain Future of Ash

Earlier this month I read an article about how the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will no longer regulate the movement of ash trees or borer-infested wood. Their 10 year battle with this issue has come to an end.

The impact that the Emerald Ash Borer has had on North American Ash forests cannot be understated. Not only have we read articles from leading industry experts about the decline of healthy ash trees in the North American hardwood forests, we regularly hear from our foresters on their observations as they inspect different properties and timber stands.uncertainwhiteash

Our foresters, when asked, certainly agree that the availability of Ash timber has slowly declined. And what is interesting is while the availability of timber is decreasing, the general market demand for Ash lumber has stayed relatively steady. In recent years, as landowners and loggers have tried to stay ahead of the impact of the ash borer, and harvest as much ash as they could to minimize potential losses, sawmills adjusted to cut all they received since the supply was in the pipeline. However, what does this mean for us today?

While no one knows for certain when the Emerald Ash Borer will claim the vast majority of the remaining Ash trees, one thing we do know is long term this does seem to lead us towards the uncertainty of Ash lumber in the future of furniture, cabinetry, and other hardwood products.

We are seeing a lot of variation when it comes to supply, especially in different regions, and we continue to hear from other sawmills that they have not been able to purchase nearly as many ash logs as before. 

For example, after discussing the state of the Ash hardwood forests in Pennsylvania with one of our seasoned foresters, he commented that he estimates the current availability of Ash in the forests is at approximately 80-90% of what it had traditionally been. And that within 2 years he believes that we will be bringing in very limited amounts of Ash, if not any, from the Pennsylvania area.

On the other hand, just a little further north in New York our foresters have commented they are not seeing that same decrease in Ash timber. Some of our New York foresters report they are only seeing an approximate 2-3% reduction from 2019 to 2020 in the ash harvested and sawn. They believe the great lakes acted as a buffer in the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer and Pennsylvania got impacted far quicker because of inland connectivity. However, they do mention that they are starting to see more issues with the ash trees on a regular basis.

Fortunately, just like in prior years, we have been able to maintain our levels of ash production steady, but it has certainly not been easy.  Our goal of course is to continue procuring Ash as long as possible. However, that has not prevented us from starting to think about what species of lumber will fill the void of production once the ash trees are no longer available to be sawn. 

In the meantime, Ash continues to be a hardwood lumber product in demand and we expect that to continue to be able to supply it to you.

The current Ash lumber inventories in our yards are moving well in almost all thicknesses and grades. If we are short on a particular product we can also usually find it for our customers from one of our many trusted partner mills. 

Are you looking for a reliable supply of Ash hardwoods? Please let us know.  We would be happy to help!

Brett Del Prince
Baillie Lumber
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