Urban Sustainability, Rural Prosperity : 2015 Forest Products Week

The following was transcribed from U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell’s address at the American Wood Council and reThink Wood’s panel discussion on mass timber and green building hosted by the National Press Club during National Forest Products Week.

“Well thank you, and first, welcome to National Forest Products Week. You know, we’ve been celebrating this week since 1960, and it always occurs the third week of October — but I think it’s important to take a few moments and really think about ‘why?’

Why do we have a national forest products week? Why is it important to celebrate this concept of forest products?

Forest products. The majority of these products we use every day, throughout all aspects of our life, the majority of them come from private land — because that’s where the majority of our forested landscapes are , and they always have been. Also, our public lands, our state lands, and our tribal lands — but it’s essential for us, I think, to understand, the importance of forests and why it’s essential that we have a robust economy around the use of forest products. If for no other reason, then so that we can maintain forests not only for this generation, but for future generations.

I would encourage everyone to pick up a copy of the President’s proclamation of National Forest Products Week. It was just issued this week, and it talks about this connection. The connection between forest products and how they enhance our lives — enhance the quality of our lives — and also it makes that connection to having healthy forests. Healthy forests are essential for strong economies, for our quality of life, and not only for this generation, but future generations.

We use so many different forest products every day. I’m not sure everyone even knows. For instance, napkins, the paper that I’m reading from today — these are the obvious ones — things like envelopes and stamps, wrappings on food, that thin piece of tissue paper on that new pair of socks. These are the obvious things, along with so many of our homes — the majority of our homes, we build out of wood.

But then there are things like the cellulose gum that might have been in your toothpaste. Or it might have been the compounds from trees that were in your shampoo or medicine. These are other things that we get from our forest products. Another key one, that 60% of Americans rely on, is water. It’s clean water that comes from out forested landscapes. It’s interesting that today, more and more people understand this connection — if you want clean water, you got to have a healthy forest. It’s essential to be able to provide that. 60% of Americans in the United States get their water from our forested landscapes.

Another product that comes off of forests, especially more and more in rural communities is energy. I was surprised to find out that 33% of school children in Vermont attend a school heated by wood. Today, there are dozens of hospitals across the country that are also using wood — and this is wood, residual wood, that is the byproduct of managing our forests for forest health. It’s another opportunity for us to make use, economic use, of this material that needs to be removed for us to sustain healthy forests in this country.

So I’m proud that the USDA and the Forest Service play a key role in not only understanding forest products, but understanding that connection of them to the healthy forests that we all rely on. It’s those overall benefits that are essential to us — it’s not just the products, but it’s those products that ensure that we continue to have clean water, clean air, the biodiversity, the wildlife and fish habitats, the recreational settings, and a tremendous amount of economic activity produced by maintaining and restoring the forests in this country.

At the Forest Service, we have a somewhat simple mission: sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Now, this may be simple, but from my point of view, this is a tall order. When I think about this week, about the importance of America to understand the benefits of forest products, they also need to understand that connection. If we’re going to meet the needs of present generations and future generations, we also need to understand that it’s essential that we understand the benefits that come from our forests and that connection forest products provide. Without the economic activity, we would not have anywhere near the acreage of private forested lands. When it comes to our public forested lands — the National Forest System — we would not have the means to be able to maintain and restore these forests.

Today, we’re faced with many challenges in our National Forests. To be able to deal with insect and disease outbreak — to deal with wildfires that are occurring — to deal with the impacts of storms and floods — it is essential that we have the means to be able to restore these forests. In many cases, it’s to remove excess biomass. Some exists from our past wildfire suppression practices, but the majority of it is there because of our changing climate. We need to understand that we need to manage our forests differently today then what we’ve done in the past, especially if we’re going to ensure that we provide the same benefits that we all, at times, take for granted today. We need to ensure that future generations will also enjoy that same mix of benefits.

I talk about the traditional forest products, and it’s essential to talk about how we are expanding these traditional markets, and also expanding into new markets. We’re doing work with nanocellulosic technology, with the hope to be able to use wood in many different ways — everything from helping to strengthen concrete to things like someday, using nanocellulosic products in our cars. It is stronger than steel, and it’s much lighter. To imagine what we could be doing with a product like that, move forward, maintain our forests, and also to be able to make use of a product we haven’t been able to make full use of in the past.

I also want to talk a little bit about cross-laminated timber (CLT). It’s been mentioned when we talk about moving into commercial building with wood. Europe has been there for years, but here in the United States, we pretty much have stayed below four stories for the most part. I’m confident that with this product, cross-laminated timber, which is actually designed in Europe, and we’ve been working with it in our Forest Products Lab, will be able to help with the development of that. CLT is a product that we can use small diameter material for — material that needs to come off of so many of our forests, where we need to do our thinning. It produced a product that can be used in these tall buildings. It’s one of the reasons that we want to promote the use of wood, not just in residential homes, but also in commercial buildings. It’s another potential market that can make a significant difference to maintain and restore our nation’s forests.

Steve mentioned the competition, and we’re proud to be a part of that. Secretary Vilsack led out on that to be part of a competition to promote the use of wood in tall buildings. There is nothing better than having an example. It’s great to be able to talk about it, to see the pictures, to see the designs — but when you can take people in to a tall wood building and have the engineers and the architects talk about the benefits — and not only the benefits about the amount of carbon it’s sequestered, the small amount of energy that was used to build this building — but to talk about the beauty, the strength, and how great it is to live and work in wood buildings. We’re excited to be part of it, it’s great to see that we’re moving forward with both the building in New York and also in Portland, Oregon. I’m also proud that USDA could provide $1 million as part of the competition, along with the $2 million dollar prize that was provided by the Softwood Lumber Board and the National Softwood Lumber Council.

When I think about that $3 million investment, and I think about what it could produce — not only in the near-term, but in the future — I think it was an incredible buy for us all to be able to be part of this competition, and be able to make a minimum investment that will pay great rewards for our future generations.

I use this just as one of the many examples. Whether it is the cross-laminated timber, or other forms of mass timber use, it’s another idea that is so essential for America to understand. In some ways, when it comes to building, wood has gotten somewhat of a bad rap — especially when it comes to sustainability. When you think about it, it’s the most green building material we have. It takes significant less energy to produce than concrete and steel. If we can find more ways to be able to use this, it not only will help us to restore and maintain our forests, it will increase the amount of carbon that is sequestered in wood products. It also helps us decrease our reliance on high energy construction facilities.

So with that, it’s great to be here, and be part of this week, and I encourage everyone to take the time and read the President’s proclamation. That in itself tells us all how important it is for us to be able to understand the benefits of forest products and why it’s essential that we be able to understand that connection, so that we will have healthy forests in this country. Thank you.”