A Comparative Analysis of Forest Harvesting, Timber Supply, and Tree Planting across Regions of the United States

This working paper presents the first detailed assessment of subregional patterns of harvesting and tree planning in the United States.



July 8, 2024


David N. Wear and John W. Coulston


Working Paper

Reading time

1 minute


Much of the United States is heavily forested, and these forests support the world’s largest and most diverse wood products sector while providing several other ecosystem services. Forest management in the form of timber harvesting and reforestation determines the overall sustainability of all service values. We use remeasured forest inventory plots to define harvest rates and intensities and estimate comparable economic harvest choice and tree-planting models for all subregions and ownership groups of the United States. Annual harvest rates range from near zero in the southern Rockies to 3.8 percent of forest plots in the South-Central region. We test hypotheses regarding the economic rationale of harvest choice and find that all regions and ownerships except public ownerships in the Pacific Coast region are responsive to changes in timber prices. We estimate regional timber supply equations using Monte Carlo simulations of harvest choices applied to the plots constituting the current inventory. This approach to supply uniquely accounts for not only the quantity of standing biomass but also the detailed composition of inventory. Timber supply is shown to be more responsive to sawtimber prices than pulpwood prices and is mostly inelastic (one-period price elasticities <1); the exception is the Pacific Northwest, where supply is price elastic (~1.5). Estimated tree-planting models indicate that tree planting on private land is responsive to price signals in the South, Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and Northern Rocky Mountains. Combining estimated harvest and tree-planting choice models with long-run inventory plot projections, we find no indications of unsustainable harvesting or increasing timber scarcity. Projected shifts in long-run timber supply indicate that nearly all potential for growth in the forest products sector is in the eastern United States, especially in the South and mainly in the South-Central region.


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