What's happening in the forest sector?

Is it time for Christmas already?

Halloween was last week, and many of us have just finished taking down the decorations, eaten our last “fun-size” treat and (hopefully) put away our costumes. You’ve probably already noticed that all the stores have rolled out their Christmas decorations, and it’s likely you’re thinking this is way too early.

But this year, there’s a really good reason for Oregonians to start thinking about Christmas in early November. That’s because this year, the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree comes directly from Oregon’s own Willamette National Forest. This doesn’t happen very often. In fact, the last time the tree came from Oregon was 2002.

On Friday, Nov. 2, I attended the tree-cutting ceremony for the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, along with 50 members of the public. The tree, which is an 80-foot noble fir, was selected by a representative from the Architect of the Capitol. You can read about his experience traveling to Oregon to choose the perfect Christmas tree for the Capitol here. The tree was located in the Sweet Home Ranger District, about 8 miles up a winding and scenic gravel Forest Service road at an elevation of 3,500 feet.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree cutting ceremony

In typical Oregon fashion for cutting a Christmas tree, the weather was very rainy. But the conditions didn’t dampen the spirits of those gathered to view the tree-cutting, who cheered loudly when the tree was cut and then carefully hoisted onto a custom-fitted flatbed truck.

The Capitol tree is lowered onto a flatbed truck

OFRI is proud to sponsor the U.S. Capitol Tree. In keeping with our mission to advance public understanding of forests, forest management and forest products, we developed an instructional guide for third- and fourth-grade teachers. The guide is designed to help teachers use the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree as a context for investigating why Oregon is such a great place for growing trees. 

The U.S. Capitol Tree is called “The People’s Tree,” and it will be displayed on the West Front Lawn of the Capitol. Starting this week in Sweet Home, it will begin a more than 3,000-mile journey across the United States. The theme of this year’s tree is “Find Your Trail,” which recognizes two anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act and the 175th commemoration of the Oregon Trail.

The tree will follow the reverse path of the Oregon Trail, visiting 25 communities along the way. One of the best ways to keep up to date with the tree’s journey is to follow Sweet Home District Ranger Nikki Swanson’s blog.

It was fun to be a part of the Capitol Tree’s cutting ceremony, and I’m excited to follow the progress of the tree as it makes its way to D.C.

Erin Isselmann

Executive Director    

Wood is safe

It’s Forest Products Week, both nationally and here in Oregon. It’s also the week the International Code Council kicks off its public comment hearings on proposed code changes to the International Building Code – which, if approved, would allow mass timber buildings up to 18 stories and 270 feet tall.

So, what better time to talk about mass timber, human life safety and fire-performance testing?

The International Building Code, which forms the basis for building codes in virtually every jurisdiction in the country, is designed to protect public health, safety and general welfare as they relate to the construction and occupancy of buildings.

Recognizing the growing interest in using CLT in a wider array of building types, including wood buildings that are taller than current code allows prescriptively, the ICC established an ad hoc committee in 2016 to explore the building science of tall wood buildings and develop proposed code changes for tall wood buildings. Those proposed changes are to be voted on during the current cycle, and they are a subject of discussion at the public comment hearings this week. The committee comprised members of competing building materials industries, including wood, steel and concrete, along with building and fire officials, architects and engineers, and other construction-related stakeholders. The American Wood Council (AWC) has published an online learning course about the committee and its proposals here.

In the end, that committee proposed 14 code changes that would create three new building types. Specific provisions can be found here. During initial hearings in April, the ICC overwhelmingly approved those proposed changes, paving the way for this week’s public hearings.

It’s important to note that everyone involved in the process takes very seriously the fire safety concerns that many have raised. That’s why a wide range of CLT and other mass timber assemblies have been subjected to significant fire testing, including full-scale fire tests of two-story furnished CLT structures. These tests were conducted by a team of fire experts from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), alongside scientists from the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory.

For decades, fire engineers have understood that even though wood is combustible, the sheer size of mass timber products gives them a degree of fire resistance. When they burn, a char layer is formed that protects the inner portions of large timber from the heat of the fire. It’s the same phenomenon that allows large trees to survive forest fires. Knowing this, engineers often protect steel connectors from fire by encasing them in wood.

AWC has a nice summary of mass timber fire testing here, and Think Wood has a much more comprehensive look at wood-related performance testing here.

The science on mass timber’s fire safety is comprehensive and unequivocal: The testing shows that wood can and does meet all the fire safety requirements other materials must meet. Mass timber buildings are safe.

In recognition of this, Oregon has already taken steps to adopt the ICC ad hoc committee’s changes into the state’s 2019 Structural Code, which will take effect in October 2019. The state has also made the changes effective immediately through adoption of a Statewide Alternate Method. Washington state has legislation in place that embraces mass timber and calls for rapid enactment of code changes. California is not far behind. It’s time for the rest of the country to catch up.


Shortly after posting this blog, voting members of the International Code Council voted to approve all 14 proposed code changes put forward by the Tall Wood Ad Hoc Committee. Those changes will now be subject to the ICC’s online voting, the final step in the code change approval process. Read the announcement from AWC.

Happy Forest Products Week.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products

This isn’t your grandparents’ logging

Being new to the forest sector, I have to admit that today’s logging operations are quite different than the popular-culture image of a burly, bearded man wearing a plaid shirt and carrying an ax. Three recent firsthand experiences have provided me with a clearer picture of how logging is done in Oregon.

The first experience was on private land, and my guide was forest industry veteran Pete Sikora of Giustina Resources. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide than Pete. Since I’m a newcomer to the forest sector, I appreciated that Pete didn’t use too many acronyms – and because he’s spent his entire career in the sector, he was able to tap into his knowledge and explain what I was seeing in a sustainably managed forest. 

From this visit to a logging operation, I had three key takeaways:

1) Safety is paramount in logging.

2) Technology is being used in new and unexpected ways to make logging more efficient and safe.

3) Careful planning and preparation are built into the process, to protect wildlife and water.

My second experience was very different, because it was at Oregon State University’s McDonald-Dunn Research Forest for the Pacific Logging Congress Live In-Woods Show last month. The event itself is a hybrid of trade show, forestry educational outreach and live logging equipment demonstrations. It took three and a half years to plan and execute. The impressive show was a testament to the hard work of all the event volunteers and sponsors who worked to bring the newest equipment, methods and loggers together to put on live demonstrations. These demos showcased cutting-edge logging technology using automation, improved traction to protect soils from compaction, and even some aerial drones that assist with safety during tethered logging operations.

Again I had a great guide at the event: OFRI’s Director of Forestry, Mike Cloughesy. He's on the left in this photo of us at the show:

Mike Cloughesy and Erin Isselmann examine a stump at the Pacific Logging Congress

One other takeaway I had from this experience was provided by the more than 450 high school students in attendance. The young men and women from across Oregon that I observed were engaged in the demonstrations, and excited by possible future careers in the forest industry.  I was impressed to see them pulling out their phones to take videos of the demos.

Finally, I recently spent a few hours in a small woodland with Matt Hegerberg, an OFRI board member and owner of Heron Timber. Matt’s operation didn’t have all the bells and whistles I saw at the Live In-Woods Show, but I was struck by how deeply he cares about his company and its employees. He and I discussed things like the efforts he’s taken to ensure his employees have family-wage jobs with health care and retirement benefits.  

I wish every Oregonian had an opportunity to see a logging operation up-close and personal. These experiences gave me a new and real point of reference. I find that in today’s fast-paced world, many of us don’t take the time to really understand something we don’t experience in our daily lives. We too often rely on the shorthand of pop culture, the media and other people’s opinions to shape our ideas. I guess I’m just another opinion to add to the mix, but I can tell you I didn’t witness anything unsafe, there weren’t too many bearded men, and I certainly didn’t meet anyone who didn’t view themselves as a steward of the land.

Erin Isselmann

Executive Director

Build with wood to reduce carbon dioxide emissions

I spent a day at last month’s Oregon Coastal Caucus Economic Summit listening to a wide range of speakers discussing climate change, its impacts and potential solutions. During the portion of the summit that focused on solutions, Yale University’s Chadwick Dearing Oliver, Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies, recommended, “Build with wood instead of steel and concrete, and we can reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions by 20 percent.”

Why wood is better

There are a number of reasons building with wood instead of other materials can help reduce CO2 emissions, as Oliver points out. For one, trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as they grow. Carbon (the “C” in CO2) is stored in the wood of the tree. That carbon stays in the wood until the wood decomposes, at which time it re-binds with oxygen (the “O2” in CO2) and becomes carbon dioxide again.

As a result, about half the dry weight of wood is carbon that once was CO2. That’s true of all things wood, including wood pencils, wood flooring, 2x4s and mass timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT).

Storing carbon long-term

As a building material, wood typically has a long, useful life as it stores carbon that would otherwise be released into the air as CO2 – in some cases, as long as 100 years or more. And when a building reaches the end of its usefulness, it can be deconstructed and the wood products reused rather than being landfilled.

For the sake of easy math, let’s assume a portion of forest is harvested and the trees are converted to wood products at age 50. In doing so, we’ve removed carbon from the forest, released some CO2 in the process (but not nearly as much as we’ve removed and turned into wood products), and stored that carbon in buildings and other uses for the wood. Then we plant seedlings to replace the harvested trees, and the carbon sequestration process begins anew in the forest.

Fifty years later, we still have the vast majority of the previously stored carbon in the buildings we built half a century ago, and the new trees are ready to be harvested and milled into wood products. Now we have two times the carbon stored in buildings and wood products, and a new forest is planted and beginning the sequestration process again. As long as the buildings last longer than the age of the trees that are harvested, there is a net-positive carbon effect.

Wood takes less energy to produce

Other building materials, primarily concrete and steel, don’t store any carbon, and they require far more energy consumption than is required to produce wood products. This results in increased greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, compared to making wood products, it takes more than nine times as much energy to produce steel, and nearly four times as much energy to produce concrete.


Energy savings graphic

Making concrete, for instance, involves heating limestone to very high temperatures, resulting in a chemical process called “calcination,” which amounts to about 50 percent of concrete’s CO2 emissions. This helps explain why concrete, the second most consumed substance on earth, accounts for around 5 percent of total global CO2 emissions.

Carbon12, an eight-story condo tower in Portland that is currently the tallest wood building in the U.S., has 577 metric tons of CO2 equivalent stored in the wood it uses, and an additional 223 metric tons of emissions were avoided by choosing wood instead of steel and concrete. The First Tech Federal Credit Union office in Hillsboro, which at 156,000 square feet is currently the largest CLT building in the U.S., has 4,192 metric tons of CO2 equivalent stored in the wood, and 1,622 tons of CO2 emissions were avoided. That’s just two relatively small buildings. Imagine what would be possible if all our buildings were wood.

A renewable resource

But could they be? Besides its positive carbon story, wood is also the only renewable resource we have with which to build. We can grow what we need, and when we use it we can replace what we used. You might be surprised at just how productive our forests are. Timberland in Oregon (defined as forestland that is capable of growing timber and potentially available for harvest, excluding parks, wilderness areas or reserves) grows enough wood to replace the amount used in the First Tech project in 46 minutes, and enough wood to replace the amount used in Carbon12 in just 6 minutes.

That means that without depleting natural resources, we can be constructing more buildings with wood instead of steel and concrete, as Oliver suggested at the Oregon Coastal Caucus, and help combat climate change in the process.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products

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