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Drought hurting timber industry

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WILMINGTON -- The effects of the national housing crisis have trickled down all the way to the local timber industry. Simply put, builders aren't building, so no one's buying wood. Add high gas prices to the mix, and that means tough times for everyone in the industry. Jason Merritt's business relies on transporting saw timber across the state. But lately, the logs have been piling up. Merritt said, "We've got plenty of wood, we just ain't got nowhere to take the wood." That's because places like Corbett Packaging Company in Wilmington --one of Merritt's best customers -- already have plenty. Contractors aren't building, so they aren't buying. Merritt says this plus the increase in gas prices has cut his profits by as much as 50 percent. "It's too full," he said. "You can't get unloaded; you're just sitting all day, not making no money. And the fuel's high and it's just tough." The national housing crisis has led to an overall decrease in construction and the demand for building materials. Experts say the price of timber has dropped as much as $5 a ton in North Carolina. Albert Corbett's family has been in the lumber business for almost 80 years. He says times are especially tough right now, but he's still optimistic. "We're hoping that this one is not as long as some think it will be, and it's obviously not going to be a few weeks or a few months. It's going to take time to get out of it." The drought has also increased timber supply. Dry grounds allow loggers to harvest more wood, which winds up sitting in lumber yards until someone buys it. Corbett says he's looking into selling some of his lumber internationally until the market here gets back on track.

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