What's happening in the forest sector?

Who knew? The role Oregon plays in the utility pole business

For something as prevalent and essential as utility poles, I’d never really given them much thought until late last year when I attended a tour of wood preservative treatment plants in Oregon hosted by the Western Wood Preservers Institute (WWPI).

According to WWPI, around 120 million utility poles are in use in North America. That’s about one for every four residents of the U.S and Canada. The bulk of those poles are made of southern yellow pine, which more readily accepts treatment than most western species, but some 40 percent are Douglas-fir, nearly all of which come from the western forests of Oregon and Washington. Poles typically remain in service for around 60 to 70 years, and more than 100 years in drier climates, according to WWPI. An Oregon State University study said about 1 percent of poles are replaced each year.

During the tour, we visited the McFarland-Cascade plant in Sheridan, where the majority of the poles processed are Douglas-fir because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and its propensity to grow straighter and taller with less taper than most other tree species. For applications requiring taller poles, Douglas-fir is the only species that can do the job. In addition to poles, Douglas-fir is also a preferred choice for crossarms, the wood pieces installed parallel to the ground that hold the wires and cables. Those transmission wires weigh a lot, so strength matters. And when it comes to strength, it doesn’t get any better than Douglas-fir.

McFarland-Cascade plant tour

When disaster strikes, particularly in the West, Oregon comes to the rescue. Fires and wind can wreak a lot of havoc on utility poles, and the electricity they carry is critical to a speedy recovery after a natural disaster such as a hurricane or wildfire. In 2017 and 2018, Oregon utility pole producers responded to the California wildfires by quickly ramping up to help affected communities work their way back to normal.

I asked about where the wood comes from, and learned that not just any Douglas-fir tree will do. Pole producers employ timber buyers who cruise proposed harvest areas and hand-select individual trees to be set aside and used for poles. Only about one in every 10 trees has the right characteristics, and pole producers pay a premium to get them.

Once the trees are selected and harvested, they’re trucked to a processing plant like the one I visited. Douglas-fir poles can range in length up to 125 feet, so logs headed to pole plants are typically much longer than those headed to a sawmill or plywood plant.

Utility pole plant

The first step at the treating plant is to run the logs through the “peeler,” which removes the bark as well as the cambium (a thin layer of fiber just below the bark). After the peeler, the poles are seasoned. Water is removed from the wood to make room for preservatives to be added and absorbed. The dried poles are sorted by grade and, if necessary, any defects are removed.

Utility poles

The preservatives used to treat wood are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All are designed to protect wood from biological and insect attack, and to stay in the pole. Leaching is very minimal, and the preservative will not travel more than a few inches in soils over the many decades the pole is in service. Having some preservative in the soil in the area immediately around poles actually has a beneficial effect of providing a more sterile environment for the pole to reside in, adding efficacy to the pole preservative. In addition to the EPA link above, the U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory published this about wood-treating preservatives.

Whatever the preservative used, it is applied using a pressure-treating process. The wood is loaded into a long, metal pressure chamber, then preservatives are added and vacuum pressure is used to force the preservatives into the wood fiber. More details can be found at woodpoles.org, or check out this video.

I left the tour marveling at the prevalence and variety of uses for Oregon wood products – from the materials used to construct some of the most complex and environmentally sound buildings in the world to thousands and thousands of simple, yet essential, utility poles.

Trees. They’re amazing.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products

Lecture series focuses on tribal forestry

I started my forestry career as a tribal forester with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians in Oregon. Later, as an Oregon State University College of Forestry faculty member and now as an affiliate faculty member, I’ve worked on the college’s annual Starker Lecture Series for over 20 years.

Given this background, it’s with great pride that I’ve been chairing the Starker Lecture committee this year – and I’m really excited that the 2019 series will focus on tribal forestry.

All the Starker Lecture events are free and open to the public. Topics that will be covered during the series include indigenous forest and subsistence practices, the history and future of tribal forestry in Oregon, and how “first foods” such as fish, berries and big game drive forest management.

Lectures will be held on Feb. 13, March 6 and April 10. All start at 3:30 p.m. in the Construction & Engineering Hall at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus in Corvallis, which is located among the traditional homelands of the Kalapuya tribes. A reception will follow each of the three lectures.

The first lecture is “History of Tribal Forestry in Oregon: Reservation-Termination-Restoration-Transformation,” by Don Motanic of the Intertribal Timber Council.

The second is “First Foods Management Approach of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation,” by Eric Quaempts, director of the Department of Natural Resources at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

The final lecture is “Coquille Tribal Forestry: Seeing the Forest through a Cultural Lens,” by Don Ivy, tribal council chief of the Coquille Indian Tribe, and Darin Jarnaghan, the tribe’s natural resources director.

The 2019 Starker Lecture Series culminates May 30 with a field trip to the Siletz Indian Reservation, where participants will receive a firsthand look at active forest management for a variety of cultural and economic benefits. Registration is required for the field trip, and space is limited.

The lecture series is sponsored by the Starker family in memory of T.J. and Bruce Starker, founders of the Corvallis-based company Starker Forests and prominent leaders in the development of the Oregon forest products industry. The series is also supported by the OSU College of Forestry and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

The Starker Lectures are generally streamed live over the internet and archived at the Starker Lectures website. However, since the March 6 lecture relies on tribal oral tradition, it will not be broadcast or recorded for archive.

More information about the lecture series is available here. I hope you’ll be able to join us for some or all of these events. I’m really looking forward to them.

For the forest,

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry


The wait is over

The Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) has a very diverse set of stakeholders, including landowners, wood products manufacturers, foresters, educators, partner organizations, a variety of federal, state and local officials, architects, construction firms… and the list goes on. After meeting with all these stakeholders during my first few months as executive director, I can say with certainty that there is one OFRI publication that everyone requests: Oregon Forest Facts. In fact, many people I met pulled out a well-worn copy just to show how much it is used. By the time I started working for OFRI in July, we were down to our last stash of the 2017-2018 edition.

Oregon Forest Facts is published every two years with the latest facts on Oregon’s forests and their social, environmental and economic impact. Today, I am happy to say that the wait is over! We have released the Oregon Forest Facts 2019-2020 Edition. You can either order a free copy from our website, or if you need to get your hands on it right away, you can download a PDF version, as well as check out OregonForestFacts.org.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the 2019-2020 edition of Oregon Forest Facts:

Nearly half of Oregon is forestland. Ownership of this land is split between government at 64 percent (federal, state and local), private landowners at 34 percent and Native American tribes at 2 percent.

- Oregon has done remarkably well in protecting forests, farms and rangeland from development. In fact, 97 percent of all non-federal land in Oregon that was in resource land uses in 1974 remained in those uses in 2014.

- More than 61,000 Oregonians are employed by the forest sector and depend on the state’s forests for their livelihood. The average annual wage of those jobs is $54,200, roughly 6 percent more than the average wage of $51,100 for all Oregon employment.

- Oregon leads the nation in production of softwood lumber. Oregon’s lumber output of 5.5 billion board feet in 2017 accounted for about 16.2 percent of total U.S. production.

- In 1971, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass a comprehensive law regulating forest practices, the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA), to ensure reforestation after timber harvest and to safeguard water, fish and wildlife habitat, soil and air. The OFPA has been updated 38 times since, to keep pace with scientific research.

Overall, the booklet highlights how our forests are one of Oregon’s greatest treasures. They provide a wonderful place to recreate with our friends and family, and offer the cleanest water in the state, abundant habitat for fish and wildlife, and family-wage jobs.

A great deal of time and effort goes into producing Oregon Forest Facts, and this latest version would not have been possible without the work of OFRI staff, especially Mike Cloughesy, Inka Bajandas and Jordan Benner. I hope you enjoy the Oregon Forest Facts 2019-2020 Edition; I know we already have another bestseller!

For the forest,

Erin Isselmann

Executive Director

A big win for tall wood

I had a whole other topic I was going to use for this month’s blog, but then came news that the International Code Council (ICC), which develops building codes used throughout the U.S., had released the preliminary results of the vote on tall wood code changes to the 2021 International Building Code –  and the result was a huge win for mass timber and tall wood buildings. Actually it was 14 wins, as all 14 proposed changes were approved by the ICC governmental voting members. Once certified by the ICC’s voting committee and board, the provisions clear the way for three new construction types involving mass timber to be included in the 2021 International Building Code. Those three building types set building safety standards and protocols for wood buildings up to nine, 12 and 18 stories.

“Approval of the tall mass timber changes is truly historic. For the past 100-plus years, model codes have consistently recognized traditional types of construction, and for the most part, they have remained unchanged until now,” says American Wood Council Vice President Ken Bland, a key player in the effort to develop the proposals and educate ICC voters.

The news, of course, is a big win for the mass timber industry. It’s also a big win for Oregon, particularly for rural economic development efforts. Oregon is home to two of the three mass-timber-panel-producing facilities in the U.S. that hold the certification needed for making mass timber panels that can be used to construct buildings and for other structural applications. Cross-laminated timber producer D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations, based in Riddle, and mass plywood panel producer Freres Lumber, in Lyons, are well-positioned suppliers for what is sure to be an uptick in demand for mass timber building materials.

The ICC vote is also a win for the building and design community across the country because it provides architects and contractors one more prescriptively allowed option that aligns with building codes when they’re considering which materials to use for designing and building commercial structures.

In addition, it’s a win for our forests because the mass timber industry has vast potential as a badly needed outlet for the type of timber harvested during forest restoration activities throughout the inland West. Finding a place for that wood fiber is critical as we seek ways to cover the costs of bringing overstocked forests back to a more fire-resilient, healthy state.

Perhaps most important, it’s a win for the environment. Because trees sequester atmospheric carbon and wood products store that carbon, wood buildings are a significant tool in the fight against climate change. These code changes provide an easier path for tall wood buildings to be permitted and built, and therefore a lot more carbon can be sequestered and stored in these structures. When that happens, we all win.

Attention now turns toward encouraging states and other jurisdictions to adopt these code changes as quickly as possible. Even though the changes are part of the 2021 International Building Code, there is nothing that restricts jurisdictions from adopting them prior to then. In fact, Oregon is leading the way in that regard, having voted this past summer to adopt the changes into the state’s 2019 structural code and establishing a statewide alternate method for applying the changes. This became effective in August. Washington is right there with us, having voted Nov. 30 to adopt the code changes into its building code. And California is not far behind.  Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order calling for the state’s building code agencies to review the new code changes and consider proposing their adoption in the next code cycle, which would be California’s 2019 building code.

We now have even more reasons to pop the corks. May you all have a happy and healthy holiday season.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products     

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