Discussion Paper

The Forest Sector: Important Innovations

Aug 1, 1997 | Roger A. Sedjo


Unlike other resources such as petroleum, coal, and copper, forests are renewable. Yet, in many respects forests historically have been treated as a nonrenewable resource in that forest stocks were depleted or "mined" and loggers moved on to exploit other "deposits." The lands were often put to other uses, typically agricultural, or allowed to regenerate naturally. This paper looks at technical change in forest extraction, i.e., logging under a number of different conditions. It finds that, on average, labor productivity has been increasing in recent decades. However, total factor productivity in the US has declined in recent years. In addition, the study examines the tree-growing potential of plantation forestry. It finds that there is underway a substantial shift away from the harvesting of old-growth forests and toward intensive forest plantations. Plantations allow for high productivity in tree growing and are being used to offset decreased wood availability due to the inaccessibility and high costs of many old- and second-growth forests. The decreased accessibility reflects not only the impacts of past logging but, perhaps more importantly, the increase in forests in protected area set-asides. Additionally, natural forests face increasingly stringent regulations on logging and forest management activities. High-yield intensively managed forests, on well located, high productivity sites, offer the potential of obtaining high yields while using relatively small land areas by allowing the near full output potential of practices including species selection, fertilization and pest control. Finally, tree planting creates the opportunity to apply genetic improvements to the tree stock thereby further increasing growth productivity and allowing for control of tree characteristics.