Dry fir crisis: surge in unsold inventory hits Eastern France

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Influx of dry fir trees, wave of unsold goods in the east  
Large volumes of dry wood to come in fir trees  

While construction is declining, the volumes of dry firs continue to rise. Concern is starting to grow among professionals in the northern half of France. After the spruce bark beetle destroyed 20 million m3 and decimated about 55,000 hectares of spruce forests in eastern France in recent years (1), is a similar catastrophe now threatening the silver fir?

The question now arises with urgency as the increasing mortality rates of the fir trees are impressive. By the end of March 2023, in the Jura massif alone, the National Forests Office (ONF) estimated that the volume of dry firs available for sale exceeded 600,000 m3. But the situation is rapidly deteriorating. "We have informed the industry that a volume of approximately 800,000 m3 of dying firs is expected at the beginning of summer because 70% of the timber we are currently marking is dry and mostly consists of fir trees," says Jimmy Equenot, head of the wood department at the ONF in Burgundy-Franche-Comté.

The fact is that since autumn 2022, the firs have been experiencing significant and particularly unusual mortality rates at the end of the growing season. The phenomenon began in 2022 on the limestone plateaus of the Jura, known for their low soil water retention capacity, and not only on south-facing slopes. The reality is that many trees are dying of thirst due to repeated droughts in recent years.

There is fear that this phenomenon, initially localized in the Jura mountains up to an altitude of 1,000 meters, is now spreading to the Vosges massif despite better soil conditions. David Hacquart, in charge of marketing conifers at the ONF in the Grand Est region, confirms the emergence of worrisome mortality rates among the Vosges firs. "Starting this spring, we have carried out sanitary logging operations on the firs because the situation is worsening, and we anticipate a peak in mortality around the end of July or early August."

The economic consequences have not been delayed. At the latest public auctions, the market has reacted. "On June 20, 2023, in Champagnole, Jura, we offered a catalog totaling nearly 110,000 m3 of softwoods," says Jimmy Equenot, who admits that the auction "was challenging" as more than half of the inventory (63% of the volumes precisely) remained unsold. The ONF has observed a significant decline in demand compared to autumn 2022.

A day later, the same scenario repeated itself in the Vosges. "Our sale in Gérardmer on June 21, 2023, resulted in half of the lots being withdrawn during the session," says David Hacquart, adding that a few batches of freshly cut timber were negotiated based on prices from last autumn.

Regarding the June 20 sale, the ONF remains cautious in its analysis as only 35% of the volumes were negotiated. For freshly cut timber, spruce prices remain relatively stable compared to autumn 2022, while fir prices have decreased by 5% during the same period. However, these prices have dropped by about 25% over the year (see table below). The ONF mentions a crisis, similar to that of the spruce bark beetle, for the Jura massif.

However, the comparison ends there because two important factors significantly change the situation. "On one hand," explains Fabrice Chauvin, "the construction and packaging markets are no longer there to absorb the surplus volume." Like his sawmill colleagues, the new president of the Les Résineux de Franche-Comté union notes a decrease in orders and downward pressure on sawing prices.

Additionally, the mechanical qualities of dry fir are nothing like those of dry spruce. "Fir trees heat up quickly," emphasizes Fabrice Chauvin, "and to find structural wood within dry timber, the sawyer must remove a significant proportion of material from the periphery of the log."

The crisis of dry firs is not benefiting forest owners or processors. And there is no guarantee that other resinous species are safe from health problems related to climate change. This could be the case for Douglas fir in the Morvan, where signs of decline are now appearing in water-stressed areas. The industry will closely monitor developments in September.


Average prices in euros/m3 standing and in bulk at public auctions in the Jura Massif













Q2 2021 





Q3 2021 





Q2 2022 





Q3 2022 





Q2 2023 






Q2 2022-Q2 2023 
















































(1) Source: Department of Forest Health

By the end of June 2023, at ONF public sales, the unsold volumes of fir-spruce reached 50% in the Vosges, and exceeded 60% in the Jura massif.

Source: Robert Wood, based on ONF and Les Résineux de Franche-Comté statistics

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