The Western US lumber industry posted its worst year for production last year in modern history.

The Western Wood Products Association said sawmills in the 12 western states produced 10.39 billion board feet of lumber in 2009 – the lowest volume since it began compiling records in the late 1940s.

Since 2005, output from Western lumber mills has fallen by some 46%, with the previous modern day low in 1982, when 13.7 billion board feet of lumber was produced.

The lack of homebuilding in the US contributed to the decline, with just 554,000 houses built in 2009, the lowest annual total since 1945.

Lower demand translated into lower prices for lumber products, with the wholesale value of production at US$2.69bn, down 26% from 2008.

All Western states posted double digit declines in production.

Overall demand for lumber totalled 31.3 billion board feet in 2009, less than half of what was used five years ago. Just 7.3 billion board feet was used for residential construction, compared to 27.6 billion board feet in 2005.