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