Quarantines take their toll on ash sales

31_wood_marketThere have been significant outbreaks of the emerald ash borer in certain U.S. regions since the insect was first discovered nine years ago in Michigan. That has caused federal and state officials to impose quarantines on sales of green ash in highly infested areas. Since ash has traditionally been a popular hardwood to those in the woodworking profession, lumber suppliers are now forced to weigh the risks and benefits of dealing with the species.

Sales remain steady, if not higher, with some businesses located in non-quarantined states. Jim Reader, manager of Downs and Reader in Stoughton, Mass., says sales of ash are up slightly, but that ash boards usable to woodworkers are getting very difficult to obtain.

“It could be a combination of the price and the hysteria about the emerald ash borer. There are a lot of architects wanting it because anything with substantial width or length to it, or that’s white in color, is getting very difficult to find. For an architect, that makes it more attractive because they can get more money based on the rarity of it,” says Reader.

Reader says quarantine restrictions in parts of western New York and all of Pennsylvania are making it difficult for him to get any green ash, forcing him to buy kiln-dried lumber or dry it himself. He also says he’s concerned about the supply of ash in the future.

“As these beetles do damage, the size of the marketable timber is going to get to be almost non-existent. That’s probably going to take about five to 10 years, and then you won’t be able to find any usable ash anymore,” says Reader, who describes the species as having similar properties of red oak, but with more unique coloring.

“The hardwood offers a tan-brown to dark-brown hue, depending on the region it comes from, and the sapwood can be a white to off-white color.”

Pricing at Reader’s facility is based on quantity. A small amount of ash, for example, sells for $3.09/bf, while 1,000 bf sells for $1.63/bf.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service sets guidelines — such as transport times and quarantine areas — for businesses that process and sell ash in order to reduce the spread of the emerald ash borer in the U.S.

The service’s website, www.aphis.usda.gov, indicates that as of June, there have been emerald ash borer detections in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and West Virginia, and in southern regions of Canada. Most of these areas have full or partial ash quarantines imposed on them by either the federal government or local governments.

Glen Durham, log procurement manager at Frank Miller Lumber in Salem, Ind., says the company no longer works with or sells ash because of the impact of the quarantine regulations on his state. He says there’s some specialization going on with sales of ash. Some mills won’t handle it at all, while others will seek it out and prepare extensively for inspections by the federal government.

“For us, we just didn’t want to jump through all of the hoops to deal with it. Ash was only about two percent of our production. To sell it, we’d have to have a quarantined area in our log inventory yard and we’d have to have inspection done by [Agriculture Department] representatives. We don’t have a problem with [the federal government], it’s just a matter of going through all of those steps. It was a lot of work for the little bit of product that we moved,” says Durham.

Steve Wall, owner of Steve Wall Lumber Co. in Mayodan, N.C., says the emerald ash borer is not affecting sales too much. No infestation has been reported in his state.

“Normally, we sell our ash for cabinets and some flooring, but I noticed the price may have risen a bit on the wholesale market. But our sales have been consistent and steady on ash. You have to take into account the economy where, in general, all sales are down,” says Wall.

He says ash is popular in everything from custom flooring to cabinetry because of its look and its properties.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.