Researchers Honored with Department, Agency Accolades

Several Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) employees were recently honored by Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen and USDA Under Secretary Jim Hubbard at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. The 2019 Chief’s Awards were presented to three current employees and one retiree.

Junyong Zhu, FPL research general engineer, was presented with a Chief’s Award for his work supporting the Forest Service goal of applying knowledge globally. Junyong’s work contributed to the USDA goal of facilitating rural prosperity and economic development, and he was also selected to receive the Natural Resources and Environment 2019 Under Secretary’s Award for his work in wood and woody biomass utilization.

Junyong Zhu (center) received awards from both Forest Service Chief Christiansen (right) and USDA Under Secretary Hubbard (left).
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Omnibus Includes Fire Funding Fix for U.S. Forest Service

The following is a press release from USDA:

(Washington, D.C., March 23, 2018) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today expressed his appreciation for the work of Congress to find a bipartisan fix for the way the U.S. Forest Service is funded for fighting wildfires. Secretary Perdue had advocated for the change since taking office in April 2017. Congress included the solution in the FY 2018 Omnibus Spending Package, which has been signed into law by President Donald J. Trump.

“The fire funding fix, which has been sought for decades, is an important inclusion in the omnibus spending bill and I commend Congress for addressing the issue,” said Secretary Perdue. “Improving the way we fund wildfire suppression will help us better manage our forests. If we ensure that we have adequate resources for forest management, we can mitigate the frequency of wildfires and severity of future fire seasons. I thank Congressional leaders, with whom I’ve frequently discussed this issue.”

The solution included in the omnibus provides a new funding structure from FY2020 through FY2027. Beginning in FY2020, $2.25 billion of new budget authority is available to USDA and the Department of the Interior. The budget authority increases by $100 million each year, ending at $2.95 billion in new budget authority by FY2027. For the duration of the 8-year fix, the fire suppression account will be funded at the FY 2015 President’s Budget request – $1.011 billion. If funding in the cap is used, the Secretary of Agriculture must submit a report to Congress documenting aspects of fire season, such as decision-making and cost drivers, that led to the expenditures. The omnibus includes a 2-year extension of Secure Rural Schools, providing provide rural counties approximately $200 million more per year. It also provides Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization. The legislation also includes seven important forest management reforms, including:

  • Categorical Exclusion for Wildfire Resilience Projects
  • Healthy Forest Restoration Act inclusion of Fire and Fuel Breaks
  • 20-year Stewardship contracts
  • Cottonwood Reform
  • Fire Hazard Mapping Initiative
  • Fuels Management for Protection of Electric Transmission Lines
  • Good Neighbor Authority Road Amendment

Until the funding solution was achieved, the fire suppression portion of the USFS budget was funded at a rolling ten-year average of appropriations, while the overall USFS budget remained relatively flat. Because fire seasons are longer and conditions are worse, the ten-year rolling fire suppression budget average kept rising, consuming a greater percentage of the total Forest Service budget each year. This increase forced the agency to take funds from prevention programs to cover fire suppression costs. In addition, hunting, fishing, and other recreational programs were cut to cover the costs of fire suppression.


Last year, wildland fire suppression costs exceeded $2.5 billion, making it the most expensive year on record. The USFS confronted wildland fires last summer that started in the Southeast and continued through the year in the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West and Pacific Northwest. At peak season, more than 28,000 personnel were dispatched to fires, along with aircraft and other emergency response resources. Since taking office, Secretary Perdue has worked diligently to address the issue and ensure both fire suppression and prevention efforts receive the proper funding they need.

  • September 8, 2017: Secretary Perdue Calls on Congress to Fix Forest Service Fire Funding Problem
  • September 14, 2017: Secretary Perdue Renews Call for Congress to Fix “Fire Borrowing” Problem after Wildland Fire Suppression Costs Exceed $2 Billion
  • September 26, 2017: Secretary Perdue Hosts U.S. Senators for 2017 Fire Briefing
  • November 1, 2017: Secretary Perdue Issues Statement on House Passage of Resilient Federal Forests Act
  • In 2017, Secretary Perdue traveled to multiple areas of the country besieged by wildfires to assess damage, and to discuss the fire funding issue at various roundtables:
    • Secretary Perdue visited Montana with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke near the end of August 2017, and received an assessment from Forest Service personnel on the ground at the Lolo Peak Fire.
    • In October 2017, Secretary Perdue visited the Cherokee National Forest to learn of damage caused by wildfires in 2016 and discuss the fire funding issue at a roundtable with USFS employees.
    • Last month, Secretary Perdue discussed the 2017 wildfire season while touring damage from the Creek Fire , that ravaged Los Angeles County last December.


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Watch This: USDA Secretary Discusses Climate Change, Sustainability

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently attended a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) to discuss climate change and sustainability practices.

Vilsack and fellow panelists detailed efforts by the USDA and other organizations to increase sustainable crop and animal production and decrease greenhouse gas emissions and food waste on a domestic, as well as international, scale. He also reviewed recent innovations in sustainable building construction across the United States and around the globe.

Vilsack spoke about goals like reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2030 and planting 100,000 trees throughout urban areas in the coming years. The USDA expects the incorporation of more trees in these areas will lead to lower crime rates and energy costs and increased property value.

The Secretary focused on recent accomplishments in green building practices through the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and other forest products. According to Vilsack, construction of CLT buildings such as the high rises in New York City and Portland, Oregon, provide timber industries opportunities for growth.

CLT has been studied here at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) from many angles, including fire performance, possibilities for use in earthquake-prone regions, and the effects of moisture on CLT.

FPL researchers also played a role in the development of the U.S. CLT Handbook, which provides technical information for the design, construction, and implementation of CLT systems and illustrates applications adapted to current codes and standards.

“[CLT] is going to change the face and appearance of landscapes across the U.S.,” Vilsack said. “It’s going to create jobs in rural areas, and it’s helping to fuel, already, the decline in unemployment in rural areas.”

Vilsack discussed the benefits of building with CLT with Weyerhaeuser Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Timothy Punke.

Punke said in an attempt to “keep working forests as forests”, it’s important to make sure there is a market for forest products. In this way, sustainable building construction can help conserve forests.

Building with wood also uses less energy.  According to Punke, wood creates 26 percent less greenhouse gases than steel and 31percent less emissions than concrete.  Construction with wood also stores carbon in the wood, thus continuing the  cycle that keeps forests breathing. Punke mentioned the introduction of the Timber Innovation Act, which was proposed to accelerate research and development of buildings made of wood.

Other topics Vilsack discussed include renewable energy conservation efforts, drought adaptation strategies, and sustainable production of animal feed.  To learn more about what was discussed at the panel, see it for yourself:

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta

Shiitake Mushrooms: A Commercial Forest Farming Enterprise

The following is re-posted from the USDA Blog. To read about FPL’s historic role in Shiitake cultivation, please click here.

By Kate MacFarland, USDA National Agroforestry Center, U.S. Forest Service

Workshop participants inoculate logs for forest grown shiitake mushroom production. (Photo credit: Ken Mudge / Cornell University and Allen Matthews / Chatham University)

Workshop participants inoculate logs for forest grown shiitake mushroom production. (Photo credit: Ken Mudge / Cornell University and Allen Matthews / Chatham University)

Helping landowners care for their forests and strengthen local economies is an important goal of the U.S. Forest Service, USDA National Agroforestry Center and their partnering organizations.

According to Ken Mudge of Cornell University, any farmer with a woodlot and the drive to diversify should consider forest-cultivated shiitake mushrooms. They are well suited to the increasing demand for locally produced, healthy foods.

With a retail price of $12 to $20 per pound, the demand for shiitakes is considerable throughout the Northeast. As an added benefit, growing mushrooms encourages landowners to learn more about managing their forests.

Using freshly cut logs of oak, beech, sugar maple, hornbeam or musclewood, Mudge says that a landowner with a solid production plan can grow one-half to one pound of mushrooms per log in two to three harvests each year for three to four years. Thus, he believes that forest cultivation of mushrooms not only produces delicious food, but is also one of the most reliably profitable non-timber forest products grown in a forest farming system.

Working with a number of partners, Mudge first held a shiitake inoculation workshop in 2009. Although it was unusually cold and icy, 40 people attended. Encouraged by this interest, Mudge and others applied for and received funding from USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program to teach interested landowners how to start commercial-scale shiitake mushroom farming.

Workshop participants inoculate logs for forest grown shiitake mushroom production. (Photo credit: Ken Mudge / Cornell University and Allen Matthews / Chatham University)

Workshop participants inoculate logs for forest grown shiitake mushroom production. (Photo credit: Ken Mudge / Cornell University and Allen Matthews / Chatham University)

Unlike one-off workshops, this effort included hands-on training over two years in both the mechanics of growing shiitake mushrooms and how to start a shiitake farming enterprise. A total of 400 participants from eight states participated in the first year.

Since these initial workshops, a number of additional efforts have come about. Several farmer advisors from this project have gone on to successfully acquire SARE farmer grants to research key questions they confronted in their own shiitake operations. Mudge’s group also obtained USDA funds to diversify forest mushroom production by developing production methods and running on-farm trials of three other types of gourmet mushrooms: Lion’s Mane, Wine Cap and Maitake.

With funding from USDA, these creative scientists and farmers are providing strategic research and outreach to catalyze a forest-grown mushroom industry. The Cornell-lead project is currently working to educate farmers on methods of mushroom cultivation through the Cornell Small Farms Program.

USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment visits Wisconsin

Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, visited FPL last week. His trip to Wisconsin also included a visit to the U.S. Forest Service Eastern Region offices in Milwaukee and visits with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board and Milwaukee Public Radio.


FPL chemist Alan Rudie (left) and USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie discussing cellulose nanotechnology in the FPL Nanocellulose Pilot Plant.

Mr. Bonnie addressed national and regional leadership personnel while at FPL and received a comprehensive tour of the FPL facilities.

“It was our great pleasure to host Mr. Bonnie,” said Michael T. Rains, Director of the Forest Products Laboratory and Northern Research Station. “We believe deeply in the important work we are doing here at FPL and feel fortunate to have the support of (USDA) Secretary Vilsack and the Under Secretary’s office as we collectively strive to advance our contemporary conservation mission.”

One project that left a lasting impression on Bonnie and the assembled cast, as described in a Wisconsin State Journal feature story, highlighted a unique air cannon used to propel 2 x 4 pieces of lumber at F5 tornado velocity to test the strength of wooden storm shelter wall structures. In light of recent  severe weather across the nation’s mid-section and South, Bonnie noted that this research is “critically important” for directly providing an affordable means for safe shelter in tornado-prone areas.


USDA Under Secretary Bonnie (left) with FPL engineer Bob Falk discussing the design of severe weather safe rooms using affordable wood components.

Bonnie sat down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board to discuss a range of issues affecting Wisconsin and the nation. “The impact of climate change is one of the three big issues in fighting fires, especially in the West,” Bonnie told board members.

The Journal Sentinel board posted an editorial supporting the recent National Climate Assessment report, stating: “The fund for fighting fires is estimated to be $500 million short for the coming season, and while the federal government will find that money, it may have to be taken from other resources, including forest management in Wisconsin. A more permanent solution is needed; proposals in Congress to provide a better way of funding efforts to fight a growing number of fires deserve support.”

Bonnie also visited Milwaukee Public Radio station WUWM (89.7 FM) where he spoke about climate change, Forest Service wildfire suppression budgets and the need for a new funding approach, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. His segment starts at about 13 minutes into the program.