The Trump administration’s assertion that Canadian lumber imports are a contributing factor in deadly wildfires raging in California is another “frustrating” blow during an already challenging time, an industry advocate says.
“The quality of the Canadian product is why we sell so much of it in the U.S.” said Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor to Global News on Friday.
“The demand is high. They need Canadian lumber.”
During a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Trump and other officials dismissed climate change and instead drew a link between imports of Canadian lumber and raging wildfires.
WATCH: Canadian lumber imports make it harder to fight wildfires: Trump
Trump said it’s “ridiculous” that the U.S. imports lumber from Canada while perfectly good fallen trees are left to rot on the forest floor, creating an ideal environment for wildfires.
“We have fallen trees, and instead of removing those fallen trees, which get to be extremely combustible…we leave them to burn,” Trump said.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke echoed his sentiments, adding that housing prices are going through the roof due to lumber prices, while wood in the U.S. isn’t salvaged for commercial use.
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“We import lumber in this country, and yet there are billions of board feet that are on the forest floor rotting,” said Zinke.
It’s estimated that U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber have increased the price of the average new U.S. home by US$9,000.
“Canada is charging us a lot of money to bring their timber down into our country. So ridiculous, here we have it,” Trump said. “We’re not even talking about cutting down trees… we’re talking about lying on the floor creating a hazard and a tremendous death trap.”
Aside from quality concerns surrounding salvaging fallen trees for industrial use, the U.S. only has the capacity to produce about 75 per cent of its domestic needs, Nighbor said.
“The U.S. doesn’t have the capacity to produce much more lumber,” said Nighbor. “Even if they had the supply, they couldn’t pump them out at the mills.”
Canada is being used as a scapegoat when it comes to price complaints, Nighbor says.
“The presidents only needs to thank himself for the premium that U.S. homebuilders and consumers are paying,” said Nighbor.
“Its his tariffs on softwood lumber that have increased the price by about 20 per cent.”
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U.S.-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has repeatedly indicated that the tariffs are hurting the industry. It’s urged the U.S. government to drop the tariff, as “U.S. domestic production is not sufficient to meet demand.”
As for the California wildfires, thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes and at least six firefighters have been killed.
— With files from Mercedes Stephenson