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NW Timber Exports After Japan Quake Slower Than Expected

OLYMPIA, Wash. – When a massive earthquake destroyed San Francisco in 1906, timber mills in the Northwest went into high gear. They supplied the wood needed to rebuild. Last year, many in the timber industry predicted the Tohoku quake in Japan would cause a jump in northwest lumber exports. But those predictions haven't come true. The recovery after the 3/11 quake is slower than expected.

The Tohoku region in Japan has faced many setbacks in the recovery. As if the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 100-foot tsunami waves weren’t enough, the Fukushima nuclear disaster still hasn’t been resolved. The construction industry has had its own challenges.

Chugoku Lumber Company is one of the biggest importers of Northwest wood in Japan. Manager, Katsuaki Yuyama, says his company is still recovering from the tsunami.

“Our warehouse in Sendai was wiped out and it took us six months to restart shipments there," he says, translated from Japanese. "Our lumber is used for permanent homes and when those start getting built, we expect to increase imports.”

He says he doesn’t know how long that will take.

Paul Owen is one of many in the lumber business who thought that Japan would be back on its feet more quickly. He’s the president of Oregon-based Vanport International.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this happening to such a densely populated area with such established housing," Owen says. "So, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the rebuilding effort to happen. But that being said, after traveling to Japan, the amount of cleanup and taking care of the neighbor that has gone out in the last year is really impressive.”

But Owen found there’s just too much damage to expect any quick recovery.

Hakan Ekstrom follows the global forest products industry for Wood Resources International. He says there was an increase in wood exports from Washington and Oregon to Japan in 2011 but only a slight one.

“It was more realistic that there will be an increase in demand in the long term but not necessarily for the first six to 12 months,” Ekstrom says.

Ekstrom explains that Japan first needed prefabricated houses and plywood to quickly build shelters. But people can’t live in those forever. When they’re finally able to build new houses, many are expected to use Pacific Northwest wood.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network