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Pandemic still slowing down lumber production

Pandemic still slowing down lumber production
Posted at 7:04 PM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 21:04:13-04

HELENA —

It's common knowledge at this point that the pandemic is causing shortages. First with toilet paper, then ammunition and now a long list of building supplies including lumber.

“The commodity market gone crazy, like it has in the last year, because supply and demand aren’t equal," said Marks' Lumber owner Steve Marks. "Our prices have increased substantially, we can’t keep up. ”

He’s been running Mark’s Lumber in Clancy full time since 1989 and has seen a lot change – drastically- in the last year.

“Prior to the pandemic lumber prices were very low," said Marks. "Mills had real tight inventory and very low log inventory because it was nip and tuck. And then the shutdown of things in different states; Montana wood products was an essential business. At the time Governor Bullock ruled that, which was very gracious of him to do that. Oregon and Washington, their governors did not. Wood product manufacturing wasn’t an essential business. So they shut those businesses down, which further eroded the supply side.”

Marks went on to say that when mills finally opened back up, finding enough employees to keep the machines running full time was a problem. Especially if one of his employees tested positive for COVID, basically knocking out a full shift of workers due to safety restrictions.

WEB EXTRA: Lumber Shortage

“It’s tough to find employees, and find good employees is really difficult. So, I don’t know what the answer is there," added Marks. "When you give the kind of money away that the government is giving away it takes [away] the incentive for the individual to go out and find a job. It’s hard on small business.”

Another cause, according to Marks, that’s causing roadblocks for their lumber production is access to timber. He gets most of his from Montana and Idaho and that is getting harder to do.

“Our private lands in Montana have had a lot of timber taken off them," said Marks. "There is a mountain of federal timber available, it’s very, very difficult to get those programs moving. Just a lot of bureaucracy that the Forest Service and BLM (Bureau of Land Management), not so much the state, that they have to work through to get that timber on the market. One of the biggest costs of a mill is fiber supply, even a small mill like ourselves.”

This is an issue for many reasons, but with the need for housing in Montana right now, this price increase is causing a ripple effect.

“We’re so out of inventory here of what we sell that we’re having to turn people away, out two or three months,” said Marks.

And the end to this issue for all parties is not yet in sight.

“So until things start slowing down and supplies increase, we’re not going to see an adjustment in commodity prices of lumber."