A 35% increase in U.S. housing starts pushed North American lumber production upward during the third quarter while lumber imports to China and Japan dropped as prices fell to the lowest levels in two years, the Juneau Empire  reports.

This, as the U.S. Forest Servicereports a 9% growth in log exports from Washington, Oregon, northern California, and Alaska to 412 billion board feet during the third quarter from a year earlier. Lumber exports fell 8% to 186 million board feet during the third quarter from the previous quarter with 62% of West Coast logs exports, totaling more than 257 million board feet, sent to China during the period—up 30% from the second quarter. Despite a slowdown in China's economic growth, the Forest Service says the country will be the near-term leader in the West Coast log export market.

China may be importing more logs from the U.S., but it is looking elsewhere for softwood lumber. The country's West Coast lumber imports dropped 14% during the third quarter from the previous quarter while decreasing imports from Canada by 8% and from Japan by 3%. Data from the U.S. International Trade Commission compiled by the Forest Service found that China increased softwood lumber imports from British Columbia by 62% in 2011 compared to 2010.