Timber is a renewable resource and cash crop that will renew itself if correctly harvested. Select cutting of larger trees enables the rapid growth of younger trees, thus enhancing the long term value of the woods. Overly mature, older trees will die of old age, diminishing the value of the forest. Forests are more than just trees, and offer many values that we too often take for granted. It is the backbone of a nearly $10 billion tourism industry in the state and provides habitat for wildlife worth around $2.95 billion to the economy.

Kentucky’s 12 million acres of forests—that’s half the state—contribute greatly to a thriving wood industry through employment, small business, tourism, wildlife, and other ecosystems, as well as pure enjoyment of nature. Management and sustainability of woodlands for current and future generations is a top priority, as it has been for more than 100 years.

Most people are surprised to learn that nearly one-half of Kentucky is forested. UK Department of Forestry Extension forester Billy Thomas, who works closely with forest landowners, says, “Kentucky has 47 percent or 12 million acres in forests. Also, 88 percent of all forestland in the state is privately owned, with 76 percent (9.1 million acres) of that family-owned by more than 450,000 woodland owners. The remaining 12 percent is split equally between the national forests and other federal, state, and local governments.”

Important Commercial Kentucky Timber Species

Deciduous (hardwood) trees are far more commercially important than coniferous (softwood) trees. The majority of our mature forests are populated by oaks (Quercus spp.) including both white and red. However, yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) also known as tulip-poplar or tuliptree, is also an extremely important timber species that is harvested and processed in similar amounts to white oak, our most important commercial oak species. Other important species are hard maple (Acer saccharum and Acer nigrum) and ash (Fraxinus spp.). Softwoods account for less than 10 percent of the volume of timber processed in the state.

Red maple accounted for over 12 percent of all trees in Kentucky forests. Sugar maple accounted for 9.4 percent of all trees on forest land in the Commonwealth, and yellow-poplar, the State tree, was the third most common tree species with an estimated 471 million trees.

The wood resources that support Kentucky’s forest sector come primarily from Kentucky’s forests.

Each acre of harvested timber is estimated to contribute $23,288 to Kentucky’s economy. This contribution starts with the woodland owner who receives, on average, $1,033 per acre for timber sold based on the statewide average of 3,563 board feet of timber harvested per acre at $0.29 per board foot. Remaining economic contributions are calculated by dividing the direct cash output of each forest sub-sector by the estimated number of acres harvested in 2020.

Sawtimber and Lumber

More than 95 percent of the 1.1 billion board feet of sawtimber harvested annually in Kentucky comes from nonindustrial private landowners. The growing and processing of this privately grown timber is one of the largest agriculture and natural resource industries in Kentucky, and the commonwealth ranks as one of the top three hardwood lumber producing states in the United States.

Are Kentucky’s trees being overharvested?

Overall, the simple answer is no. We are not harvesting more wood than we are growing. Most of the woodlands in Kentucky have experienced timber harvesting at some point and many have been harvested multiple times, yet the relative area of woodlands in Kentucky has increased over 3 percent in the last 70 years. A quick review of the latest Kentucky forest inventory data collected by the U.S. Forest Service and the Kentucky Division of Forestry shows that after factoring in mortality and all forms of removal Kentucky is growing more than twice the sawlog volume that is removed.

How much is Kentucky Timber worth? 

This frequent question does not have a simple answer.  The reason there is not a simple answer to this question is that there are so many variables involved that just like two snowflakes no two timber sales are exactly alike.  Timber values may fluctuate wildly based on the species being harvested, their quality, their volume per acre and per tree, the distance to markets, logging difficulty level, time of year, contract restrictions, as well as current market conditions.  Nobody knows exactly how much your timber is worth until it is sold but there are ways to obtain an estimation of its value.  The Kentucky Division of Forestry maintains a quarterly delivered log price report called “Kentucky’s Growing Gold.”

With lumber prices going through the roof from demand driven by pandemic changes, it seems like forest-filled New Hampshire should be reaping a windfall.

But issues from the global supply chain to manpower limits to tree-species distribution means the benefit so far has been spotty at best, especially for landowners.

“Not much of this has translated back to stumpage or standing timber. We’ve seen some slight increase but haven’t seen the type of price growth that lumber has seen.” There’s no question that demand has soared for 2x4s, plywood and lumber of all kinds. Bored homeowners are doing upgrades they’ve been putting off for years, while the flight from crowded cities has raised home prices in rural and suburban areas, spurring new construction.

The Federal Reserve Board says the price index of lumber and wood products almost doubled from April 2020 to February 2021, the sharpest rise since 1946, when the post-World War II housing boom kicked in. Any trip to your local lumber store will confirm that prices are spiking.

This has been a boon for lumber mills, although the pandemic has complicated their ability to take advantage.

At their peak on May 7, timber prices hit an all-time high of $1,670.50 per thousand board feet in Kentucky. Now, timber futures prices are on track for their sixth consecutive weekly loss, wiping out all of their 2021 rally. The price fell another 6% on Wednesday to around $710 per thousand board feet. Still, there are factors that could damper demand and prevent prices from escalating further. Interest rates are likely to rise, and home prices and inflation are climbing

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