WHY North America? From 'Hardwood Matters' issue 6
The hardwood forests of the USA and Canada hold the most diverse array of hardwood species anywhere in the temperate regions of the world and they are under-utilized. Whereas the hardwood diversity of Europe was largely eliminated in the last ice-age by the east-west Alps, the same did not happen in North America where the Appalachian Mountains run north-south allowing the trees to come back as the ice melted. In consequence, for example, there are very many oaks in the USA, of which sixteen are commercially available, compared with two in Europe. Other native species, such as tulipwood, black cherry, black walnut and hard maple are unique to the North American continent.
For many product applications (and for paper) Asia’s plantations of fast growing species (rubber, acacia, eucalyptus) do provide some vital material, but their small diameter logs require more processing of laminating, finger-jointing and gluing. They cannot match the larger diameter American species for yield in solid wood. However, there is room for both in Asia’s burgeoning production and consumption. For decorative veneer, the USA is also an essential provider of raw material.
Why therefore is the North American hardwood resource so important to Asian manufacturers? By using American hardwoods, no forests are threatened, which is one way to take the pressure off Asia’s natural forest resources. In any case many of the unique American species offered are highly acceptable in world markets which, for wood product manufacturing exporters in Asia, ensure market access. While the USA contains only 8% of the world’s hardwood forests, it is by far the largest exporter of sawn hardwood, the majority of which is shipped to Asia, surely a demonstration of its availability and competitive pricing.