In the world of urban lumber, most wood from tree removal is turned into firewood or mulched. For a long time, I had assumed most logs harvested in industrial forestry were turned into lumber. It turns out that a lot of wood from logging projects doesn't make grade for various reasons and is sent to the pulp mill and turned into chips for paper.
In the fall of 2015 my business partner Mark and I went to a pulp mill between Detroit Lake and Salem Oregon. We heard rumors that mixed in among low grade pulp logs one could find some awesome oversized wood. In short, an exciting treasure hunt! Up to this point, we had been spending an average of 4-6 hours on urban tree removals getting one or two logs at a time. Having 20 or 30 logs on hand seemed like a proper log deck to us.
Upon arrival, we came face to face with the sheer volume of logging that goes on in Oregon alone. Giant front loaders unloaded whole log trucks in one scoop. Log decks were piled 20 feet in the air that went on as far as the eye could see. The mill or should I say wood shredder aka log eater, churned nonstop, grinding log truck loads of wood into chips in record time.
In and among the piles of wood, we saw 48" plus diameter old growth fir logs and huge decks of big leaf maple. How could this be? Chipping old growth fir? Upon closer inspection, we found defects like white speck, root rot, and excessive ring shake. A lot of mills have also retooled to cut smaller logs and actually don't want large, old growth logs.
After a frenetic and excited romp around the piles of wood, Mark and I decided to buy a 40" diameter big leaf maple log. It was probably 30 feet long and we had to trim off the end so it could fit on the trailer! Getting it off the trailer with an underpowered front loader proved to be quite a challenge as well!
Cutting and stacking the slabs was a lot of work. Our equipment struggled to load the log as it weighed 10,000 pounds. Pulling each slab off the mill took some ingenuity, leverage and sheer physical exertion. After a day and a half, we had an amazing stack of 18' long big leaf maple slabs!
Fast forward a few years and the next step I had been dreading arrived: Surfacing all of the wood. From one end of the stack to the other between the planing machine took about 70 feet. Over and over as we ran the slabs through the machine, revealing the amazing color and art of nature. There wasn't much time to appreciate all this as I had to repeatedly muscle each slab off the outfeed table onto a forklift.
Eventually, we won the battle, bringing in one slab at a time into the Epilogue showroom at Sustainable Northwest Wood. Three years after starting this harrowing task, the wood is finally for sale!
For the pulp mill, selling one log to a couple of guys with a small flatbed and trailer is pretty much a nuisance. But as Mike, the mill manager said, "God didn't grow that tree to be turned into toilet paper!" We tend to agree and think you will too!
One of my favorite events of this first annual Sustainable Building Week was the Happy Hour Hike with the Build Local Alliance. Led by Forest Conservationist Michael Ahr and BLA co-founder and forest owner Peter Hayes of Hyla Woods, this educational stroll through Forest Park, got us out of the office and into nature on a rare sunny October day in Portland.
Forest Park is one of the country's largest urban forest reserves with 5200 acres and more than 70 miles of trails. It is home to more than 112 species of birds, 62 mammal species and a diverse smattering of vegetation, grasses, shrubs and trees. Our guides led us on a hunt to locate and identify the prominent native Northwest tree species in the park including Douglas fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, as well as smaller populations of big leaf maple, black cottonwood, grand fir, Oregon ash, Oregon white oak and western yew. We discussed the features and benefits of the lumber that comes from these trees, how it is used, the ecological and economical significance of each species. A wood geek and forest lover's dream.
We stopped to admire the tallest tree in the park, an impressive Douglas Fir estimated at over 240' tall and 18' in circumference. As we stood on the trail soaking up the magnificence of this ancient beauty, breathing in the lush landscape, and being lulled by the babbling Balch Creek nearby, Peter Hayes introduced us to the concept of Shinrin Yoku - a Japanese term for "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." Many of us intuitively understand the benefits of being in nature, but recent scientific studies prove the healing effects of simply spending time in under the canopy of a living forest. Reduced stress, lower blood pressure, increased energy and focus, improved mood, and better sleep are among several noteworthy benefits of forest therapy.
The concept of Forest Bathing is not a new one. Developed in Japan in the 1980s, it has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. It is surely the cornerstone of my own health and well-being, even if I didn't have the cool word for it before this outing. Almost immediately upon putting my boots on the path, I can feel the physical and psychological effects as my mood shifts and my mind goes from chaos to calm. About 15 minutes in, I hit that ahhhhhhh moment. As I take a deep breath, inhaling the aromatherapy of cedar, fir and moss, I can feel my body relax as I breathe out the stress of a hectic, bustling life. Leaving behind the world to take pause and simply look at the color patterns on an autumn leaf or notice the sensation of the trail beneath my feet, to stop and listen to the sounds of nature, feels transformative.
Humans have been aware of the connection between green spaces and health since 19th Century, which could explain the development of so many city parks during that time. Donald Macleay originally deeded the city of Portland a portion of the land that we stood on to provide a public park and an outdoor space for patients at Good Samaritan and St. Vincent’s hospitals. "Green prescriptions," especially for people in urban areas that don't have everyday access to green spaces, could have measurable health benefits over the years.
Wilderness advocate and conservationist John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” He wrote that in 1901 in his book Our National Parks. Understanding the need to preserve and protect our wild places and immerse ourselves in them on a regular basis feels vital, now more than ever.
Wow what a week! It’s been a week and a half since the first annual Sustainable Building Week (SBW) ended and I think I am finally rested up. The three goals of Sustainable Building Week were to empower design and building professionals to learn, connect and collaborate. I can say from first hand experience that all three of these goals were met for me. The week of 21 events was the result of a collaboration between eleven non-profit professional organizations and three local universities. Events during the week covered the gamut from A Walk in the Woods to an Innovation Bazaar to AIA’s Green Champions to a set of presentations from small firms called “Small but Mighty.”
A strength of Sustainable Building Week is ‘breaking down silos’ between professions and allowing participants to attend events held by professional organizations outside of their very profession. In the spirit of ‘breaking down silos’ I attended an American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Oregon Chapter lunch event that covered the Passive House movement. In this case, you had a wood nerd in a room full of very smart engineers learning about the benefits of making our buildings more air tight, insulated and efficient. The presenter walked through several projects that dramatically improved energy use, which lowers greenhouse gas emissions and saves money, through renovating existing buildings to meet the standard. I walked away from this event with some interesting ideas about how I could make my own home more efficient, plus I ran into an old friend who looked at me like I was a fish out of water at his industry event.
The entire week was a whirlwind of meeting new people, reconnecting with old colleagues and enjoying this community of dedicated professionals. I met engineers, architects, consultants, interior designers, students, manufacturers, builders, general contractors, university faculty and sub-contractors who were all building bridges across disciplines and plotting plans for collaboration. By the end of the week the organizers of this one-of-a-kind event told me that over 500 people had attended the week’s events. That is an amazing amount of connectivity between professionals of various skill sets and experiences.
The final goal of SBW is critical because without collaboration we will not be able to meet the challenges on our horizon. Becoming a resilient society is going to require a cross-disciplinary approach where all of our professional experiences can be focused on staving off the worst effects of the unpredictable world ahead. At Design the Unseen: Educating Designers to Consider the Micro and Macro for Sustainability, I was happy to introduce a panel of university faculty from Portland State University, University of Oregon and the Art Institute of Portland. The student presentations focused on a wide variety of projects that will help us evolve our designs, re-use of materials, indoor air quality and biophilic design. It was very inspiring to watch the next generation of professionals tackle current day challenges with an eye on the future.
It’s great to go to events and come away inspired but it’s what we do with what we learn, who we meet and how we craft long lasting collaborations that demonstrate the true effectiveness of events and conferences. At Sustainable NW Wood our goal of offering a transparent, biophilic and restorative product that improves natural ecosystems and employs Pacific Northwesterners is certainly better informed and connected through our participation in Sustainable Building Week.
The organizers of this crowd-sourced weeklong conference have told me that they are already planning for Sustainable Building Week in 2019 so stay tuned at www.sustainablebuildingweek.org.
FSC certified 2x4 Douglas Fir is rolling in. Columbia Vista has milled up this premium grade 2x4 Douglas Fir for us and we are excited to make it available to you. Columbia Vista, located just a few miles outside of Portland, is an FSC Certified mill that has been locally owned and operated for over 60 years. Their FSC logs come from nearby sources that include Washington DNR lands and small family forests managed by the Northwest Natural Resources Group. Joins us in supporting both this great mill and our local forests.
Friday kicked us off with a Day of Connection, which included a wine tour & epic scavenger hunt, a golfing excursion, an interactive grilling course, and my choice of a fishing tournament on the Columbia River. I never miss an opportunity to be on the water and this was a perfect day for it. Our guide Bobby Brown, was knowledgeable, skilled and entertaining. His fearless first mate, All Star, was definitely a highlight of the day, especially since the size of my fish was not! The hours passed quickly and I had a chance to get to know my fishing buddy, Scott Weaver with Riggs and Martin Remodeling, better than I could have at a "normal" networking event. We talked about business, the economy, and opportunities to work together, but also about kids, family, and favorite hiking trails. It's this kind of deeper connection that makes BUILD so special.
The Day of Connection turned into a night of live music, dancing and lots of laughter. Thanks to the CFM Hospitality Suite, there may or may not have been a little cocktail driven mayhem. The mayhem continued Saturday for the Common Ground team building day, complete with a Field Day inspired theme. Amy Bright and her crew of merry makers out did themselves with this one. Let's just say this was an epic day of cooperation, collaboration and gut busting giggles. The Zorbs were quite literally a hit and I hope the newlyweds survived their first tumble!
The third arm of the mission of BUILD Retreat is Giving Back. This year, with the silent auction, raffle and paddle raise, this amazing group raised over $20,000 for ReFit, a non-profit organization that supports people that are physically and financially challenged stay safely in their homes. It is so heart warming to be part of such a generous community who give back in such a meaningful way.
We have over 1000 board feet of this handsome, hard to come by, local wood. These are gorgeous, kiln dried, quarter sawn and clear grain slabs, ready for your next project.
Oregon White Oak (Quercs garryana) is the quintessential hardwood for furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and wall cladding. It’s beauty and durability allow for the creation of heirloom quality pieces with a rich, golden hued color palette that is unique to this Pacific Northwest species. Stop by Sustainable Northwest Wood to choose your perfect piece while supplies last!
The 12" x 18" size is perfect for home use, photography, and gift-giving. Already sanded to 180-grit, the cutting boards are ready for your choice of finish (we recommend coconut oil for a food-safe, lustrous, and protective finish, as shown in these photos).
These cutting boards are $40 each.
To be honest, being a humble sustainable wood products salesperson, these presentations challenged me and forced me to broaden my understanding of contemporary forestry. However, sometimes it is important to dive into the deep end of a subject and struggle to better understand the complex world in which we live.
The conference started with Dr. Jerry Franklin, of the University of Washington, who set the tone when he stated, “Today, we are going to talk about how we can manage [forests] for resiliency, carbon storage and wood products. How the hell are we going to do all that?”
I went to this conference to answer the same question. How can we continue to improve forest ecosystem health and biodiversity on a planet where the climate is changing, and which has a high risk of being overpopulated?
Sadly, not all my questions were answered, nor were my fears soothed, but I did walk away with a growing curiosity about the future of these complex ecosystems, and an appreciation for them that compels me to learn more.
The highlights of the conference were a walk in the Capitol State Forest with a panel of forestry experts to view the Blue Ridge Unit. The Blue Ridge Unit is a section of forest that is being used by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to research various forestry and silvicultural practices and better understand the benefits and detractors from different methods. Many of the topics that flew over my head in the morning sessions were much easier to understand once we were walking in the woods.
That evening, Emma Marris, the author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, opened my eyes to the possibility that some of my preconceived notions, which are widely shared with others, are foolish. One such foolish notion is that ecosystems should be properly managed to be returned to a pre-European utopia when flora and fauna was more in balance. Rather than aiming to return ecosystems to a state that, with our changing climate and other modern variables, will likely never occur again, I learned that a smarter approach may be to manage those ecosystems for a future where the planet is warmer and overcrowded.
This change in perspective is the result of spending two days learning from scientists, foresters, ecologists and other professionals at NNRG’s great conference!
Are you a podcast fan? Check out this special interview with our president, Ryan Temple, to learn about what makes our wood products sustainable.
Prepare to be inspired!
Some of this obfuscation is due to the creation of competing standards: Shortly after FSC was founded in 1993, the American wood lobby created its own certification system, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a very different version that allows some of the more controversial practices that FSC prohibits.
In the years since, many stakeholders in the FSC system, including this company, have worked hard to clarify exactly what makes FSC such a valuable and trustworthy tool for measuring the quality of the forestry from which so many of our necessary products come from. FSC is not without is problems, but we believe it to be the best certification system for forests that exists at this time.
In sum, FSC requires stringent forestry practices which prohibit deforestation, including conversion of natural forests to plantations; protects rare old growth and other High Conservation Values; protects Rare, Threatened and Endangered species; strictly limits clearcut sizes in order to protect forest ecosystems; restricts the use of highly hazardous pesticides; protects the rights of indigenous peoples; and requires stakeholder consultation on both public and private lands.
[Photo at right: A clearcut along Highway 26 in Northwest Oregon.]
Here in Oregon, our forest practices act allows for many of the practices that FSC prohibits. Some of these legal practices may have the potential for unintended consequences in affected communities and habitats. These include the spraying of pesticides that can drift beyond the areas targeted during routine applications, exposing residents to toxins and polluting the freshwater streams upon which many Oregonians, human and otherwise, depend.
Our laws allow the cultivation of monoculture tree plantations on both state-owned and private lands, where native mixed-species and mixed-age forests are replaced with one type of tree, all planted at the same time.
These dense plantings are more prone to annihilation during wildfires, which are becoming worse each year as we experience record-breaking heat waves and droughts. While fires in the past were likely to burn light and quick through the understory, leaving the big trees standing and the soil intact, these modern fires burn so hot, lighting up the dense groves of dry, unhealthy trees, that everything in their path is destroyed, including the life-sustaining microbial communities in the soil, which scientists are only beginning to study and understand.
Deforestation is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution, more so even that global transportation emissions. Forests used to be a carbon sink, transforming atmospheric carbon into wood fiber and replacing it with oxygen. But today, due to widespread deforestation and the increase in catastrophic wildfires, forests are poised to contribute more carbon to the atmosphere than the remaining acreage of intact forests is able to absorb.
Responsible forest management, like that embodied by FSC, is a solution to these problems. It goes far beyond what this state's forestry laws allow, explicitly prohibiting many of the most harmful activities. FSC-certified woodlands are audited annually by third-party agencies, who visit and document conditions to ensure that the stringent management criteria are being met. The wood that is harvested from these forests is also subject to annual audits to ensure that the chain of custody from forest to consumer remains intact.
For visitors to these forests, the difference is dramatic. The FSC forests that we have toured in person are home to many different species and ages of trees. They are natural, functioning habitats that cool the air and the streams flowing through in the summer and are home to diverse wildlife. They feel whole, and it is obvious that timber production is not the main driver of management decisions.
[Photo at left: A forester marks trees to be harvested in an FSC forest that provided cedar and fir lumber for Sustainable Northwest Wood. Photo credit Trout Mountain Forestry.]
FSC is not the only marker of responsible forestry -- there are some responsible forest managers and owners who do not participate in FSC or other certification systems. But FSC is a consistent and reliable way for consumers, builders, and homeowners to know that their wood is coming from well-managed forests.
The footage used in the video below was filmed in FSC forests here in Northwest Oregon, including Hyla Woods, which is a exemplary model of forestry practices that more than meet FSC's criteria.
We hope that many more acres of forests, both public and private, are able to achieve FSC certification in the years to come. And we hope that shoppers of all types select regionally sourced, FSC certified alternatives wherever possible.