The People’s Garden(s) at FPL


This “People’s Garden” at FPL is filled with permaculture plantings, greeting visitors as they arrive via Gifford Pinchot Drive.

FPL is home to two very different but uniquely beneficial gardens established as part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s People’s Garden Initiative.

A permaculture garden showcases sustainable landscape practices and features a series of swales and berms, planted with complementary vegetation. The purposes of a permaculture garden are multiple. They are often used to catch and retain runoff from buildings and paved surfaces as well as provide sanctuary for birds and other fauna, especially pollinator species.

FPL also has a traditional vegetable garden site. All produce is grown and donated to help local people in need. Coming into their third year, the gardens are well established and flourishing.

USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources & the Environment Harris Sherman to Retire


USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources & the Environment, Harris Sherman

Harris Sherman has tendered his resignation after four years as Under Secretary for Natural Resources & the Environment at USDA. Mr. Sherman has been a friend to FPL in many ways.

Two of our fondest memories include the Under Secretary’s visits to FPL. During our centennial celebration in 2010, Mr. Sherman addressed a full house at the Centennial Research Facility and even sat in with The Fiddlin’ Foresters to fiddle his way through the traditional song Cripple Creek.

During the opening of the Nanocellulose Pilot Plant in 2012, Mr. Sherman again addressed a crowd and helped to celebrate the pilot plant’s grand opening.

During his time with USDA, Mr. Sherman has contributed much. A few highlights include:

–Conservation of vast landscapes and watersheds across our national forests as part of the President’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.


Harris Sherman, left, with FPL chemical engineer Rick Reiner at the Nanocellulose Pilot Plant grand opening, August 2012.

–Accelerated restoration of millions of acres within national forests to combat bark beetles, invasive species, and address climate variations which in turn will reduce the threat of wildfire.

–New public/private partnerships with water utilities, electric utilities, recreation interests, ski resorts, major corporations, and NGOs to assist in forest and watershed restoration.

–Protection of Native American sacred sites and comprehensive consultation with Tribes.

–Creation of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps to work with partners to connect thousands of young people to the outdoors through targeted internships and career opportunities.

–Collaborative efforts with diverse stakeholders reaching consensus on forest restoration, resulting in fewer appeals and less litigation.

–Streamlining the Forest Service permitting and environmental review systems, thereby reducing costs, eliminating inefficiencies, and improving environmental outcomes.

In a letter to Forest Service employees, Mr. Sherman wrote “The Forest Service has a well-deserved, proud reputation. Wherever I have traveled these past four years, I have heard of our good deeds, extra effort, and exceptional results. You have every reason to take pride in your role and contribution to caring for the land and serving people.”

We offer a hearty “Thank You” to Mr. Sherman and wish him well as he rides off into his beloved Colorado sunset, fiddle in hand and steady on the trail.

Almost Famous FPL Research Heads to Hollywood

FPL research led to the creation of Hollywood’s first 100 percent sustainable studio set.

FPL research led to the creation of Hollywood’s first 100 percent sustainable studio set.

Hollywood’s first 100 percent sustainable studio set was created for 20th Century Fox’s  comedy series “Raising Hope” thanks to the efforts of the Forest Products Laboratory and NOBLE Environmental Technologies (NET).

The set was created using ECOR, a strong, light-weight bio-based panel.

The set was created using ECOR, a strong, light-weight bio-based panel.

Much of the set was created using ECOR®, a strong, light-weight bio-based panel that was developed through the collaborative efforts of FPL and NET. The project is also featured on the USDA Blog.

A recent San Diego KUSI-TV morning show segment also featured ECOR® technology. Bob Noble, founder of NET, talks about how his company partnered with USDA to develop a valuable, sustainable product that promotes job growth in the San Diego area.

Bob Noble, founder of NET.

Bob Noble, founder of NET.

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The Ring Profiler: Giving Scientists a Luminous Look at Tree Rings

The Ring Profiler may sound like the title of fantasy novel but in fact it’s an innovative tool U.S. Forest Service scientists are using to better determine how much a tree grows annually.

suppresed growth tree rings

Suppressed growth trees can contain decades of growth rings in a half-inch section of wood.

Developed by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wis., the Ring Profiler may have significant implications in forest management and climate-change studies. It allows researchers to accurately determine both the age of a tree and how much mass it has accumulated over time. Studying a tree’s rings in the traditional way can be difficult when its growth has been suppressed due to stand overcrowding or climate-related effects such as a lack of moisture during the growing season.

The Ring Profiler allows researchers to clearly see the densely packed rings of a suppressed-growth tree. This innovative tool illuminates a wood sample from the sides, allowing the wood cells to act like fiber optic conductors. The light is internally reflected within the cell walls, producing a high-contrast image of the cellular anatomy when viewed under magnification. This technique makes it easier to measure the cellular structure of the wood fibers as they change shape throughout the growing season, making it possible to calculate the rate at which a tree accumulates mass over time.

ring profiler image

A bright, high-contrast image of the cellular anatomy of wood produced by the Ring Profiler.

The Forest Products Laboratory is now working on automating the process and developing an instrument that could be used by forest managers to more accurately assess the growth characteristics and carbon sequestration potential for trees which would improve forest health and aid in restoration efforts. The Ring Profiler has been patented.  Interested industrial cooperators should contact the Forest Products Laboratory for more information on product development.

This post was also shared on the USDA Blog.

Nanocellulose Pilot Plant is “A Game-Changer”

Industry leaders, government officials, and Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) scientists recently celebrated the opening of FPL’s new Nanocellulose Pilot Plant, a production facility for renewable, forest-based nanomaterials. The $1.7 million pilot plant, the first of its kind in the United States, positions FPL as the country’s leading producer of forest-based nanomaterials.


USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman talks with FPL chemical engineer Rick Reiner during the grand opening of the FPL Nanocellulose Pilot Plant.

Industry representatives from IBM, Lockheed Martin, Ecolab, the pulp and paper industry, and various universities met with keynote speaker Harris Sherman, USDA Natural Resources and Environment Under Secretary, and FPL Acting Director Michael Rains, among others, to discuss opportunities for advancing wood-based nanotechnology into new markets. The new facility will bolster an emerging market for wood-derived renewable nanomaterials, helping to spur forest-based job growth and contribute an estimated $600 billion to the American economy by 2020.

“Forest Service science touches almost everyone in every way, every day,” said Rains during a talk to industry leaders, scientists, and other Federal staff. “Forest Service research is now creating innovative science and technology required to keep forests in forestry,” said Rains. “From abundant water; clean air; better, safer houses; helping keep wood bats in Major League Baseball; to those sticky stamps that you put on your envelopes when you enjoy mailing a letter… Now, we are about to embark on a new, exciting adventure called wood-based nanotechnology.”

“It’s a game-changer,” said Rains about the great potential of the FPL pilot plant. Rains has high hopes that nanocellulose research can use woody material removed from overgrown forests to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfire while adding value to biomass from forest thinning projects. FPL’s new facility will aid in the commercialization of nanocellulosic materials by providing researchers and early adopters with working quantities of both cellulose nanocrystals and nanofibrils.

Nanocellulose-based materials can be stronger than Kevlar fiber and provide high strength with low weight. Such attributes have attracted the interest of the Department of Defense for use in lightweight armor and ballistic glass as well as companies in the automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, and medical device industries.

Echoing Rains, Under Secretary Harris Sherman also called the pilot plant a “game changer,” describing the exciting advances being made in the field of wood nanotechnology at the FPL.

“I am excited by this bold and new frontier,” said Sherman in his keynote address. “We’re moving to a whole new world.”

But in a time of tight budgets, the Forest Service alone cannot advance nanotechnology, said Sherman. “We need to build our public/private partnerships.”

Sherman stressed that he welcomes discussion with industry leaders about expanding cooperation at the Federal level to develop effective partnerships. “My door is open… to talking about how we can expand at the Federal level our resources and commitment to what is occurring here today,” Sherman said. Such partnerships demonstrate how “we are all stepping to the plate, rolling up our sleeves, and putting our shoulder to the wheel.”

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By James T. Spartz, FPL Public Affairs Specialist