(Chamaecyparis nootkatensis)

This section is under construction

Since 1993 more than 80 percent of the timber cut from the Tongass has been shipped as raw logs to Japan, Korea, and China. But the price to sustain the few jobs generated by it is enormous.1

A recent report by the General Accounting Office says that from the end of 1992 through 1994, the Tongass National Forest lost more then $102 million on its timber sale program. The loss was more than $3,270 per acre cut--an astounding figure.2

The use of Alaskan yellow cedar and western red cedar has a long tradition in Japan. Historically these species were initially used within the temple industry where their durability and high quality were highly prized. Following World War II the combination of increasing housing starts and reduced domestic timber supply created a demand for these species within the housing construction and shoji screen industry.3

Japan's Forest Resource
Contrary to most people’s impression, Japan is a richly forested country with forests covering more than two-thirds of its land area (Table 1). Almost 60% of the forests in Japan are privately owned, 31% are owned by the national government, and other public groups own 11% (Table 2). Private forests are dispersed among a large number of small plots with over 2.5 million owners. The average size of a forest holding is just under 10 hectares per forest owner, although this statistic seriously overstates the size of the typical forest holding. A breakdown of forest owners by size of forest holding shows that approximately 58% of private forests are less than one hectare in size and an additional 31% are less than five hectares. More importantly, barely one percent of forest owners in Japan have forest holdings that exceed 30 hectares. This ownership pattern has clear implication on the ability of private forest owners to economically manage their forests for timber production. It also restricts the ability of forest owners to access the capital required to actively manage their forests and improve the quality of their timber.

The age class distribution for Japanese forests is presented in Figure 7. Almost two-thirds of the private forest resource (65.1%) is between 21 and 50 years of age (totaling 10.78 million hectares) while over half of the National Forest resource (54.7%) is in excess of 71 years in age (totaling 3.85 million hectares). Similarly, the forest data shows that 59.2% of plantation forests are between 21 years and 40 years of age (6.14 million hectares). However, the age class distribution in natural forests is bimodal, with 35.6% of natural forests between 31 and 50 years of age (4.70 million hectares) and 37.6 % over 71 years of age (4.97 million hectares).

Timber harvests in Japan have been generally declining over the period 1960-2000 (Figure 8). The majority of timber harvests have been on private forests, although the prefectural and municipal forests play a substantial role in the timber supply. In contrast, National Forests have traditionally supplied less than 10% of the timber harvest. From 1960-1973, the timber harvest from prefectural and municipal forests remained fairly constant while private harvests declined sharply. From 1973-1991, there was a reversal in this trend and harvests on private harvests leveled off while prefectural and municipal timber harvests began to decline. Finally, during the 1990s there has been a substantial decline in the volume of timber harvested in Japan from all forests.

At the species level, there have been two important changes in the mix of logs harvested (Figure 8). First, as described above, the volume of hardwood logs harvested has declined significantly since the mid 1970s. Unfortunately, there is no species specific data collected for the hardwood harvest in Japan. Second, the volume of pine harvested in Japan has also declined significantly from 1952-1998. During this period, the volume of pine logs harvested declined from 11 million cubic meters (28.2% of the total log harvest) to 2 million cubic meters (10.5% of the total log harvest).4

1. St. Clair, Jeffrey and Alexander Cockburn, 1999. Tongass: The Never-Ending Tragedy in Nature and Politics, September 1, 1999, http://eatthestate.org/03-44/NaturePolitics.htm

2. Ibid.

3. Eastin, Ivan, 2002. Market Opportunities for Alaska Yellow Cedar and Western Red Cedar in Japan, Center for International Trade in Forest Products, October 2002, http://www.softwood.org/REPORTS/AKMA%20Final%20ReportRevised-a.htm

4. Ibid.