Forest Service Chief Talks Restoration via Harvesting

It may seem counterintuitive to say it is necessary to cut trees in order to save forests. But harvesting plays an important role in ensuring vibrant, healthy forests remain a part of America’s landscape.

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell explained in a recent Times Observer article why harvesting is vital to both restoring the health of our nation’s forests and keeping private forested land from being developed for other uses.

According to Tidwell, out of the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands, somewhere between 65 and 82 million acres need some form of restoration.

One example of restoration work is thinning out overcrowded forests to reduce their risk of being destroyed by catastrophic wildfire, disease, or insect infestation. Such efforts are costly, but selling the wood that is harvested can offset the steep price tag of restoration activities.

Tidwell also explained that thousands of acres of private forest lands are lost to development each year, a trend he hopes to see change with increased timber value.

Still, Tidwell acknowledges there are challenges that come with harvesting efforts in today’s economy.

Millions of acres of forest lands are in need of costly restoration work; harvesting can help offset those costs.

Millions of acres of forest lands are in need of costly restoration work; harvesting can help offset those costs.

“The challenge that we have is we need to find ways to do it, especially with these markets that we’ve had where the housing market in this country dropped to some of the lowest levels we’ve seen in a long time,” Tidwell added. “We need to be able to expand markets for wood.”

And that’s where the Forest Products Laboratory can make a big difference.

Researchers at FPL are working from many different angles to develop new uses for wood. From biofuels to high-rise wood buildings to nanocellulose, the world of forest products is expanding far beyond traditional lumber and paper.

And with heightened interest in the environmental impacts of our daily lives, wood is the way to go.

“It’s the greenest building material,” Tidwell said.

# # # #

Making the Most of Beetle-Killed Trees

Some 20 billion cubic feet of beetle-killed timber now stands in 12 Western states, according to Forest Service estimates. The New York Times was recently in touch with FPL to see what, if anything, could be done with the swaths of dead trees stretching across 23 million acres of U.S. forests.

Mountain pine beetle infestation.

Mountain pine beetle infestation.

The resulting Times story highlights one landowner, Larry Lipson of western Montana, who was determined to find an opportunity within such massive destruction.

Lipson and his family own 37,000 acres of land, including a resort area and ten miles of Blackfoot River shoreline. When the mountain pine beetle began killing trees on this land four years ago, the Lipsons took steps to stop the infestation.

The treatments were effective but the pest still left them with more than 10,000 dead trees. Faced with disposing of thousands of tons of wood, Lipson got creative. His entrepreneurial spirit spurred the launch of Bad Beetle, a company now making accessories for Apple computers, tablets, and phones out of beetle-killed wood.

FPL researchers have been working to find uses for trees killed by invasive insects for more than 50 years. Recently, two useful guides for addressing the issue were published,  Economic Uses for Beetle Killed Trees and Wood Utilization Options for Urban Trees Infested by Invasive Species.


Producing Lumber and Jobs from Salvaged Logs and Forest Thinnings

Have you heard the buzz? A new high-production small log sawmill is celebrating its grand opening this week in Eagar, Ariz., and it’s making a big impact on forest health and the regional economy.

The newly named Four Corner Forest Products, owned and operated by Vaagen Brothers Lumber, runs a high-speed mobile HewSaw capable of producing more than 100,000 board feet of lumber per shift. The lumber is sawn from logs salvaged from recent catastrophic wildfires in northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico and from small-diameter logs harvested as part of fuels reduction activities in the region.

High-speed mobile HewSaw.

High-speed mobile HewSaw.

The mill is a boon for the people of Eagar, a community of about 4,900 people located in central eastern Arizona. Located in a formerly abandoned production facility, Four Corner employs 15-30 people directly and supports 25-50 forest logging jobs.

The opening of Four Corner Forest Products is essentially Phase Two of a continuing partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, and Future Forest.

In Phase One, the partners worked with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and several other industry partners to demonstrate the mobile HewSaw in northern Wisconsin.hewsaw1

The purpose of the demonstration in Wisconsin was two-fold. First, to improve forest management by introducing the latest sawmill technology to the Great Lakes region.  Second, to assess the potential of high-speed mobile sawmilling for processing small-diameter trees removed from fuels reduction projects, landscape restoration, and forest thinning operations.

The demonstration resulted in stimulating $7.5 million of capital investment by a Wisconsin sawmill, leading to more than 75 jobs created and retained in Wisconsin’s north woods.

The Trade-offs of Carbon Storage and Climate Change Mitigation Strategies

Storing carbon in standing trees can help offset greenhouse gas emissions but will also affect future timber supply and prices. A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Forestry Research analyzes the impacts of this particular set of trade-offs. The study, Projected US timber and primary forest product market impacts of climate change mitigation through timber set-asides, is available through the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development database TreeSearch.


Prakash Nepal, post-doctoral economist at FPL

Lead author Prakash Nepal, a post-doctoral economist at the Forest Products Laboratory, developed several hypothetical timber set-aside scenarios where a portion of U.S. forest landowners would be paid to forego timber harvests for 100 years. Allowing standing timber to grow and healthy forests to prosper increases the amount of stored carbon and mitigates climate change through the capture of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide.

Reducing the amount of available timberland for harvest, this analysis found, would increase timber prices and affect U.S. domestic timber production, consumption, net export, and timber market welfare. Nepal, along with co-investigators Peter Ince and Ken Skog from FPL and Sun J. Chang of Louisiana State University’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, conclude that policymakers considering future climate change mitigation policies and programs should take into account such carbon-storage/timber-price trade-offs when developing mitigation strategies in the forest sector.

Practical Advice for Using Insect-Killed Trees

Today, the U.S. Forest Service announced the release of a manual that provides urban forestry professionals with practical guidance for managing the millions of dead and dying trees that must be properly used or disposed of as a result of the devastating effects of invasive insects.

EABmanualThe free publication, developed by the Forest Products Laboratory and the University of Minnesota Duluth, offers insight into the wide variety of products and markets that are available and practical advice for considering the many available options for using insect-killed wood. Uses include lumber, furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and pellets for wood-burning energy facilities.