Rate of shattered baseball bats remains low thanks to teamwork from FPL and Major League Baseball.

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FPL wood experts examined thousands of shattered Major League bats. Photo credit: TECO, used by permission.

As the 2013 Major League Baseball (MLB) season slides into the All-Star break, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed some MLB-funded research via the Forest Products Laboratory resulting in significantly fewer shattered baseball bats.

“This innovative research by the U.S. Forest Service will make baseball games safer for players and fans across the nation,” said Secretary Vilsack. “The U.S. Forest Products Laboratory has once again demonstrated that we can improve uses for wood products across our nation in practical ways – making advancements that can improve quality of life and grow our economy.”

“Since 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has worked with Major League Baseball to help make America’s pastime safer,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “I’m proud that our collective wood ‘grain trust’ has made recommendations resulting in a significant drop in shattered bats, making the game safer for players as well as for fans.”

By testing and analyzing thousands of shattered Major League bats, Forest Service researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) have implemented changes in bat manufacturing that have led to significantly fewer shattered bats, especially maple bats. Even though maple bats are now more popular than ever among players, the rate of shattered maple bats is less than half it was five years ago.

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Percentage of bats sold to Major League Baseball players, by type of wood, 2008-2012.

“These results would not have been possible without the outstanding work of the Forest Products Laboratory and the tireless efforts of its project coordinator, David Kretschmann,” says Daniel Halem, MLB’s Senior Vice President of Labor Relations. “Major League Baseball greatly appreciates the invaluable contributions of the Forest Products Laboratory and Mr. Kretschmann on this important issue.”

In 2008, the joint Safety and Health Advisory Committee of Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association began working to address the frequency of bats breaking into multiple pieces. FPL research engineer Kretschmann and a team of wood experts looked at every broken Major League bat from July to September during the 2008 season. They found that inconsistency of wood quality, primarily the manufacturing detail “slope of grain,” for all species of wood used in Major League bat manufacture was the main cause of broken bats. Also, low-density maple bats were found to not only crack but shatter into multiple pieces more often than ash bats or higher-density maple bats. Called multiple-piece failure, shattered bats can pose a danger on the field and even in the stands.

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The average number of broken bats per Major League game has remained relatively stable while the average number of shattered bats (multiple-piece failures) has dropped significantly since 2008.

Slope of grain refers to the straightness of the wood grain along the length of a bat. Straighter grain lengthwise means less likelihood for breakage.

slope-of-grainAbout 60,000 baseball bats are sold to Major League players every season. The vast majority of those bats, 64 and 33 percent respectively, are maple or ash. The overall rate of maple bats sold to Major League players fell by nearly 10 percent between 2008 and 2010, a time when the popularity of ash bats rose by about the same amount. Orders for maple began to rise during the 2011 season and are now at an even higher percentage of sales than in 2008.

With the help of TECO, a third-party wood inspection service, the manufacturing changes the Kretschmann-led team established have proven remarkably successful over time. Limits to bat geometry dimensions, wood density restrictions, and wood drying recommendations have all contributed to the dramatic decrease in multiple-piece failures, even as maple’s popularity is on the upswing.

The Forest Service research team has been watching video and recording details of every bat breakage since 2009. The team will continue monitoring daily video and studying broken bats collected during two two-week periods of the 2013 season, working to further reduce the use of low-density maple bats and the overall number of multiple-piece failures.

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Chief Tidwell Cites Conservation Opportunities, Challenges in Senate Hearing

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell addressed the challenges and opportunities facing the agency’s forest management efforts in testimony before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“We must manage and restore more acres to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, to address insects and disease, and to restore the ecological health of forests for the benefit of all Americans,” said Tidwell. “We know we cannot achieve all of this without a strong integrated forest products industry that can use all parts and sizes of trees to help us accomplish our restoration work.”

Tidwell said the Forest Service continues to explore new and existing tools to become more efficient on the 193 million acres it manages. This exploration includes a review of business practices around timber sales, becoming more efficient in its environmental review processes, and implementing a landscape-scale adaptive approach to treating existing and new pine beetle infestations, among other tools.

Restoring the health and resilience of the nation’s forests generates important amenity values. For example, through implementation of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program – which relies heavily on stewardship contracting – projects on national forests and grasslands maintained 4,174 jobs and generated more than $147 million in labor income in fiscal year 2012.

Wood energy projects also make forest harvests more economically viable by providing a productive use for previously undervalued woody biomass. The USDA Wood-to-Energy Initiative combines programs from the Forest Service and USDA Rural Development to expand renewable wood energy use, from rural community schools, hospitals, and National Guard facilities across the country.

This Forest Service press release expands on Tidwell’s testimony.

Wood as a Green Building Material: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack urges US builders to prioritize wood in green buildings

Findings in a recent Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) study suggest that wood should factor as a primary building material in green building. The report, Science Supporting the Economic and Environmental Benefits of Using Wood and Wood Products in Green Building Construction (pdf), reviews the scientific literature and determines that using wood in building products yields fewer greenhouse gases than using other common materials.

“This study confirms what many environmental scientists have been saying for years,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Wood should be a major component of American building and energy design. The use of wood provides substantial environmental benefits, provides incentives for private landowners to maintain forest land, and provides a critical source of jobs in rural America.”

The report suggests that greater use of life cycle analysis in building codes and standards would improve the scientific underpinning of such codes and standards. Advancement in life cycle analysis procedures and the development of new technologies for improved wood utilization are needed to further advance wood as a green construction material. Forest products’ sustainability can be verified through credible third-party rating systems such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council or American Tree Farm System.

The use of forest products in the United States currently supports more than one million direct jobs, particularly in rural areas, and contributes more than $100 billion to the country’s gross domestic product.

“In the Rockies alone, we have hundreds of thousands of dead trees killed by bark beetles that could find their way into the building supply chain for all types of buildings,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Taking a harder look at wood as a green building source could reduce the damages posed by future fires, maintain overall forest health and provide much-needed jobs in local communities.”

The report identifies several areas where peer-reviewed science can contribute to sustainable green building design and decisions, including:

  • Updating and revising information on environmental impacts across the lifecycle of wood and alternative construction materials;
  • Ensuring that green building codes and standards adequately recognize the benefit of a lifecycle environmental analysis to guide selection of building materials; and
  • Developing educational, technology transfer, and demonstration projects to promote the acceptance of wood as a green building material.

Research recently initiated by the wood products industry in partnership with the FPL will enable greater use and valuation of smaller diameter trees and insect- and disease-killed trees. Research on new products and technologies has also been initiated including improved cross-lamination techniques and the increased use of nanotechnology.

These developments are especially important amidst a changing climate because forest managers will need to increasingly thin densely forested areas in the coming years to reduce the impacts from longer and more severe wildfire seasons. Continued research of wood-based products and technologies will contribute to more environmentally responsible building materials and increased energy efficiency.