Recently, a team of researchers produced a report intended to identify ways to accelerate cross-laminated timber (CLT) manufacturing in Oregon and southwest Washington. Among the topics addressed is whether the region has sufficient capacity to provide the raw material needed for an expanded CLT industry.
The short answer to that question is yes.
For one thing, the raw material for CLT and other mass timber products is lumber, not logs. Like most commodities, the lumber market is global, which means even if Oregon did not have the forest resources to support ample lumber production here, CLT manufacturers could simply import lumber from other states and other countries to meet their needs.
But the question was really about forest capacity. Again, the answer is yes, there is plenty of timber growing in our forests to support a robust advanced wood products industry – all while managing these forests sustainably. The forests of the Pacific Northwest are among the most productive in the world. That productivity occurs whether or not we choose to capitalize on it.
To put this into perspective, it took Oregon’s forests about six minutes to grow the more than 300,000 board feet of wood products, ranging from two-by-fours to CLT panels, needed to build the eight-story Carbon12 condominium project in Portland. Carbon12 will be the tallest wood structure in the U.S. when it’s completed later this year, and our forests produce enough timber to build many more like it. Oregon timberlands, which exclude forestland where logging is restricted such as parks, reserves and wilderness areas, grow enough wood in one day to build more than 200 Carbon12s.
For the past 100 years, timber harvests in Oregon have averaged 5.9 billion board feet. Well over half a trillion board feet has been harvested from Oregon forests in that time. Remarkably, for more than 50 years, 1941-1991, the annual statewide harvest level exceeded 6 billion board feet every year but two (the recession of 1981-82). Today, statewide harvest is relatively lower, about 4 billion board feet, and mostly comes from private forestlands. Harvest on federal timberlands, which cover more than 13 million acres in Oregon, declined precipitously in the early ’90s and has remained low in the 25 years since.
Some might argue that the harvest levels of the past cannot be sustained in the long term; others might disagree. Yet here we are, after a full century of harvest levels 50 percent greater than today’s volumes, and Oregon still has 386 billion board feet of timber growing on nearly 24 million acres of timberland – volume and acreage figures that have remained relatively stable for decades.
So, yes, there is plenty of wood to support a robust mass timber industry in Oregon. And we have the know-how to manage timberland sustainably while also protecting other forest values such as water quality, wildlife habitat and recreation.
The question we should be asking is whether and how much of our timber resource we’ll choose to use, to not only spur economic growth in rural communities, but also foster greater sustainability in the built environment.
Director of Forest Products
I had the opportunity during last month’s OFRI-sponsored Western Oregon Sustainable Forestry Teacher Tour in Tillamook to visit forestlands managed by Stimson Lumber Co. and the Oregon Department of Forestry as well as tour a Hampton Lumber sawmill. I came away from the tour with the impression that western hemlock is the super tree of the Oregon Coast.
At Stimson Lumber’s Tillamook Tree Farm, we toured a very well-managed forest made up primarily of hemlock with a mixture of western red-cedar, Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, red alder and big leaf maple. It was clear that western hemlock was the species of choice on the site because the trees responded well to management, grew to a large size in a relatively short time and produced high timber volumes per acre compared to other species.
At Hampton Lumber, we toured a sawmill that handles only western hemlock logs and is well-positioned in the heart of Oregon’s coastal hemlock forests. This dimension lumber mill produces 2-by-4, 2-by-6, 2-by-8, 2-by-10 and 2-by-12s of various lengths, plus some larger, 4-inch-thick boards. It is a modern high-production sawmill with lots of computers and lasers, but with a relatively large number of hands-on employees. The boards coming out of this mill were beautiful. It was interesting to learn that most of the lumber produced there was destined for the pressure-treated lumber market or out to the Midwest to be sold at Menards, a chain of home improvement stores.
At ODF’s Tillamook Forest Center, we learned about management of the Tillamook State Forest and how much of a problem Swiss needle cast is in the forest’s Douglas-fir plantations. This fungal needle disease is causing major losses in tree growth and even some mortality. Western hemlock does not get Swiss needle cast so foresters on the west side of the Coast Range are increasing the number of hemlock they are planting in forests with a mix of tree species. And in coastal forests, they are mostly planting hemlock.
This all reminded me of when I was a forestry student 40 years ago. Back then, we were taught that western hemlock was pretty much a weed and had little value in the market and may not have a place in industrial forestry. Boy, have things changed. Improved management, milling and marketing, along with a major disease problem have changed perceptions of western hemlock among foresters from a weed to a coastal super tree.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
The recent death of 88-year-old Adam West, the actor who popularized the comic book superhero Batman on 1960s television, brought to mind his sidekick Robin’s penchant for exclaiming the obvious. But I had no idea he uttered 367 “Holy…” exclamations during the three-year TV series.
One of his outcries was “Holy Conflagration!” which is what we in Oregon could see this Aug. 21 when a total solar eclipse passes over the state during the height of fire season. According to state officials, Oregon can expect anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million visitors during the days leading up to and after the eclipse. That’s going to magnify the risk of human-caused wildfire, the leading cause – at 83 percent – of all fires in Oregon in 2016.
Keep Oregon Green, the statewide organization that works to increase awareness of Oregon’s wildfire risk, will be working overtime to educate the public about wildfire prevention. Recognizing the extreme risk to the state’s forest resources, the OFRI board of directors recently voted to send $10,000 to KOG to help with its public education efforts.
Education is great, and we need it, but what would really help is if Congress passed a wildfire disaster funding bill. It’s a well-known fact that the increasing cost of fire suppression is deteriorating the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Interior’s ability to more effectively manage the nation’s forests for fire resiliency. Since 1995, for example, the Forest Service’s fire suppression budget has increased from about 15 percent to more than 50 percent of the agency’s overall budget. And when those levels don’t meet fire suppression needs, the agencies must “borrow” funds to fight wildfires from other budgets, including those earmarked for forest restoration and fire prevention.
Enter the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017, reintroduced June 8 by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.
“Simply put, the current system is broken,” Schrader says. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon-producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, saving taxpayers money, and providing jobs in our struggling rural communities.”
Passage of Schrader’s bill in this Congress won’t help mitigate the increased wildfire risk when thousands of visitors come to Oregon in 2017, but Holy Solar Eclipse! I hope it passes before the next one passes over North America – in 2024!
For the forest,
“Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $790 million construction bond that would modernize four schools and fund…“
So began the article on OregonLive about the results from last month’s statewide election. That $790 million was the record-sized Portland Public Schools bond that will go toward rebuilding two schools (Lincoln High School and Kellogg Middle School) and upgrading several others. And it passed by a two-to-one margin, indicating voters think highly of the need for suitable school buildings.
The PPS bond may have been the biggest, but it wasn’t the only one voters passed. Nine other school districts in the state passed similar (albeit much smaller) bonds earmarked for school construction. Notable among those were Bend-La Pine ($268 million), Lake Oswego ($187 million) and Greater Albany ($159 million) school districts. Even the tiny Jefferson School District, with fewer than 900 students, passed a $14.4 million bond for a new middle school and elementary school gymnasium. Combined with the $1.4 billion in bonding passed by nine districts last November, this gives Oregon nearly $3 billion over the next few years to build and improve schools across 19 school districts.
With money in hand, these districts can set about planning and building the schools in which we’ll be educating the next several generations of Oregon schoolchildren.
I, for one, think they ought to be planning those schools in wood. And why not?
Wood products are our most sustainable building material by far. They come from a renewable resource and require far less energy to produce than other traditional materials like steel and concrete, and the buildings we create with them serve as gigantic carbon storage units. Half the dry weight of wood is carbon sequestered from the atmosphere while the trees were growing. Harvested trees are replaced to the tune of 40 million seedlings planted in Oregon each year, ensuring that the carbon storage cycle continues into the future. Here in Oregon, wood is one of our most abundant resources. In less than 10 minutes, Oregon timberlands grow enough wood to build each one of the schools we’ll be replacing with this bond money.
Not that we need any more good reasons to choose wood, but consider that wood construction is often the most cost-effective way to build schools. With innovative wood products like cross-laminated timber (CLT), it’s also often the fastest way to build.
Wood products manufacturing is one of Oregon’s enduring legacy industries. The plants that produce our lumber, plywood and CLT have for decades (going on two centuries in fact) given economic vitality to dozens of rural communities since the earliest pioneers trekked across the Oregon Trail.
Maybe the most important reason to use wood for our schools is that it results in better learning environments where students can excel. Countless studies have shown that students are more relaxed and better able to concentrate when surrounded by warm, natural materials like wood. And that translates to better learning outcomes.
So, let’s give the next generations of Oregonians what they deserve — better, modern schools built with wood.
Director of Forest Products
Cascades Academy of Central Oregon
Hennebery Eddy Architects, Inc.
WoodWorks Wood Design Award Winner - Wood School Design
Photo credit: Josh Partee