New wood products may impact forest management, wildfires

In September 19, 2017

Could a revival of Oregon’s timber industry reduce the fuel load in public forests and ease the blistering wildfires that choked much of the state in smoke the past few weeks?

At this point it’s an intriguing question without a simple answer. But it arises as university researchers and industry officials explore advanced wood products such as cross-laminated timbers — called CLT — and mass plywood panels, which can support multistory wooden buildings, even modest high-rises. Only two western Oregon mills and a handful of others nationally make the products, but they appear to hold promise.

For one thing, the massive beams and panels can be made with small-diameter logs, the very type crowding forests and contributing to the explosive growth of the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge and the much larger Chetco Bar Fire in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the southwest corner of the state.

A recent report by Oregon BEST, a quasi-public entity that funds clean technology startups and links entrepreneurs to university researchers, said CLT and related mass timber manufacturing could create 2,000 to 6,100 direct jobs in Oregon. Income generated from those jobs would range from $124 million to $371 million a year, according to the report..

Oregon BEST said Oregon and southwest Washington are “poised as a manufacturing hub for the emerging Cross Laminated Timber market in the United States.” Pacific Northwest forests could easily and sustainably supply the wood needed for production, the report said.

People working in the field issue a cautionary, “Yes, but.…”

“In theory, it makes a lot of sense, but it requires for the forests to be actively managed in that way, and an outlet for that wood to be taken up,” said Timm Locke, director of forest products for the Oregon Forest Research Institute, an organization founded by the state Legislature to enhance collaboration and inform the public about responsible forest management.

Locke said the public forests most in need of restoration and thinning work are east of the Cascades, where much of the milling infrastructure has “disappeared.” It doesn’t make economic sense to move poor quality trees from Eastern Oregon to mills in western Oregon, he said.

“We need to be thinking about what’s stopping us at this stage,” Locke said. “What are the issues there?”

One of them, he said, is a lack of trust between industry and the public land agencies — principally the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Mills that once depended on logs from public forests were “burned” when the timber harvest was drastically reduced due to lawsuits and policy and regulatory changes over threatened species, wildlife habitat and watersheds. An often-cited statistic shows the Forest Service manages 60 percent of the timberland in Oregon but that land produces only 15 percent of the annual harvest.

“It’s difficult for government agencies to make significant changes quickly,” Locke said. “There’s a lot of process that has to happen.”

Locke believes the Forest Service is on the right track, but noted that conservation groups often oppose increased logging on public land.

“It’s a tricky subject, no question about it,” he said. “Public discussion about public land management — I think we’re ripe for that conversation.”

New wood products may impact forest management, wildfires By Eric MortensonEO Media Group.  Available from <> [Published on September 18, 2017 9:28AM;  Last changed on September 18, 2017 9:42AM]. Photo: courtesy of Oregon Forest Resources Institute