U.S. demand for lumber will drop 14.4% in 2009 from last year to total just 35 billion board feet, the lowest consumption rate since 1982, the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) forecasts.

WWPA based its new forecast, issued Jan. 6, in part on the expectation that housing starts will total just 803,000 units in 2009, the lowest level since World War II. Traditionally, home building consumes as much as 45% of the lumber used each year, WWPA says. For 2009, it believes a total of 9.5 billion board fees lumber will be used in residential construction.

"Western [U.S.] mills are experiencing the largest downturn in lumber demand ever recorded," WWPA said. In that region, production has slid from 19.3 billion board feet in 2005 to 13.4 billion board feet in 2008 to an expected 11.8 billion board feet this year. "Southern mills will follow the same trend, with production dropping 17% for 2008 and slipping another 13% to 12 billion board feet in 2009," the Portland, Ore.-based association predicts. As for Canada, imports from that nation have declined by some 10 billion board feet to roughly 11.9 billion board feet in 2008. Another decline, to just over 10 billion board feet, is expected for this year.

"The downward trend is forecast to continue through 2009 before beginning recovery in 2010," WWPA said, as housing starts finally start rising and both the repair/remodeling and commercial construction markets begin to see increases.