What's happening in the forest sector?

Seed orchards produce our future forests

Thanks to my friends at the Bureau of Land Management, I recently had the opportunity to tour the Walter H. Horning Tree Seed Orchard near Colton. This 600-acre seed orchard is managed by the BLM, but also produces seed for several timber companies, the U.S. Forest Service and even a couple Christmas-tree growers.

When we first started planting seedlings in the 1940s and ’50s to reforest areas in Oregon that had been logged or burned in wildfires, foresters collected seeds from any tree in the forest. But they quickly observed that some trees grow much faster than others, even on similar sites, and came up with the idea of growing seedlings using seeds from only the best trees.

Modern tree-breeding programs and the use of seed orchards to produce improved seed were the next steps. In the late 1960s, foresters started collecting cuttings from the best trees in the forest and growing these to produce seed in an agricultural environment.

The Horning Seed Orchard was started in 1968. Together with the BLM’s Tyrell Seed Orchard near Eugene and the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Schroeder Seed Orchard near St. Paul, it produces most of the conifer seed used in Oregon. The majority of the seed produced at Horning is western Oregon Douglas-fir. Seeds from other species produced there include sugar pine, western white pine, noble fir, western hemlock and western redcedar.

The seed production process is very interesting, and very detailed. Cuttings are made from branch tips in the upper crowns of the selected parent trees. These cuttings are then grafted onto root stock, which has been specifically selected for grafting success. The resulting “graftlings” are grown in a greenhouse in pots until the grafts are healed and the young trees can grow in the orchard.

The graftlings are then planted outside in the seed orchard. Once the trees are well established, they are periodically stressed by partial girdling, root pruning and plant-hormone injections, to get them to produce seed as early as possible. Seed-orchard Douglas-firs can produce significant amounts of seed by age 15. Woods-grown Douglas-firs don’t produce much seed until age 40 or so.

The cones are then collected by hand using lift trucks when they are nearly mature, but before they open and cast their seed to the wind. Cones are stored in burlap bags and placed on drying racks in a rodent-proof drying house until they are dry enough for processing. Seed is extracted from the dry cones and stored in a freezer until it is needed to grow seedlings.

Seed at Horning is generally produced by open pollination, where the pollen comes from any and all of the trees in the block. In special cases, such as disease-resistant western white pine, controlled crosses are made where pollen is collected from certain trees and used to pollinate cones in other trees.

I want to point out that these improved trees are not genetically modified. They are produced using standard breeding techniques, where the healthiest and fastest-growing trees are used to produce future seed. Even with these fairly simple breeding techniques, genetic-gain verification trials have shown specially bred trees grow bigger in a faster amount of time, gaining 15 to 20 percent more wood volume at age 20 than those grown with woods-run seed.

So the next time you see a wonderful stand of conifer trees, remember to thank the BLM and ODF for the great work they do at their seed orchards, producing improved conifer seed to grow future forests that will provide us with wood products, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty, among other benefits.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry

Oregon has plenty of wood to support the mass timber industry

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.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products 

Western hemlock: coastal super tree

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,

Mike Cloughesy

Director of Forestry   

Holy Solar Eclipse! If only we had a wildfire funding bill!

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,

Paul Barnum

Executive Director

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