Lumber Community Voices: Blake Sullivan

Tell us about the forests in Georgia and your role as a forest landowner.

I have spent my working career tending our family forests and helping other landowners do the same. Here in Georgia, we have over 24 million acres of forestland, mostly working forests that are used to produce all kinds of products including softwood lumber. Our trees also provide clean air, clean water and abundant wildlife just to name a few other benefits. These resources are free byproducts that our entire local community is free to use and enjoy.

What does the lumber industry mean to your community?

Our forests and lumber mills provide much needed jobs and economic support for our rural communities – more than 145,000 people work in the forest industry in Georgia. When a tree from our forest is sent to a sawmill, it is the culmination of years of investment and hard work. From the time we landowners plant a tree, it takes 25 to 30 years before it is harvested and made into lumber. We do not have a crystal ball, so we must make investment decisions years in advance.

We depend on forest-related industries like sawmills to take our lumber and their willingness to pay a fair price in an open and competitive market for the trees we produce. So, a healthy lumber industry is vital to the forests and to our success as stewards of the land.

Why is fair trade important for the lumber industry?

I’m a free and fair trader and believe that’s what America is about. I believe in hard work and welcome competition, but what I don’t agree with is when a foreign government tries to game the system. That’s what Canada has been doing by giving handouts to its lumber industry and underpricing timber that’s harvested from its public lands. The subsidized product is then dumped into the U.S. market, which hamstrings us, stands in the way of fair competition and undermines the values of our country.

What the U.S. forest industry and our softwood lumber manufacturers in particular are asking for is a level playing field, a fair game. We’ll gladly continue putting in the work to grow to meet U.S. demand. In Georgia and elsewhere in the U.S., we have an abundance of timber that can be used to feed mill upgrades and supply additional mills if warranted by the marketplace.

How have you seen the industry change since the duties were enforced?

Our industry has been fighting against subsidized Canadian lumber since the 1970’s. The current duties in place against Canadian lumber have helped keep Canadian companies from destroying the free and fair market for lumber made by our mills and the timber that I grow. We had a major hurricane go through a large portion of our state last fall, forcing landowners to make decisions about reforesting and other investments to revitalize the leveled forests.

Having the duties in place gives us some assurance that when we make these investment decisions, we have a chance to compete in the marketplace for our trees. When our sawmills do well and invest in technology and infrastructure to expand production, we do well. Fair trade helps everyone in the lumber industry supply chain grow to meet their potential and gives us greater certainty that our investments will pay off 20 to 30 years in the future.

Is there anything about the industry that you think might surprise people?

The majestic forests that Americans are familiar with did not happen by accident—they are the result of robust forest management practices. Around 10 million private landowners are involved in the forest products industry and we supply manufacturers with a growing and sustainable supply of timber. Many folks are shocked at how many families make their livelihoods from forests. Small businesses, workers and private landowners from rural towns across America, much like Americus, Georgia, depend on fair trade to continue putting bread on the table.