While checking social media, I came a cross this article from ARCHITECTURE AU on LinkedIn. The Austrailian publication has great content. “The Buildings We Deserve” is a Q&A with Andrew Waugh. Andrew is the co-founder of Waugh Thistleton, a London-based architecture firm that specializes in Timber structures. Timber in much of the world is used to refer to lumber. More specifically, in the case of Waugh Thistleton, they are referencing Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).
If you are wondering about CLT and how it’s used this is an article that you need to read. I think it does a great job describing why so many people love these buildings. The reasons he has championed CLT structures in Europe are the same reasons it’s going to be such a big hit in North America and around the globe.
CLT in London
We had the chance to visit Waugh Thistleton’s latest building in May. The simplicity and beauty of the wood and the assembly make you wonder why it took so long to figure this out. The structures are solid, beautiful, and eco-friendly. What’s not to love?
The topic of wildfire raises the level of awareness of our forests. Some of this is good. People become aware and then they are compelled to act. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if they are going to act in the right manner.
Wildfire in the West
In the fire-prone forests of the Intermountain West, fire is part of life. These forests have adapted to survive regular fire intervals for centuries. Ponderosa Pines and Western Larch are prime examples of species that are specifically capable of withstanding significant fire. Unfortunately, some of our actions have put even the most capable trees at risk. These actions and subsequent inactions have put entire forests and massive ecosystems at risk.
The US Forest Service and other agencies across the country started putting out every fire as soon as they could. At least they used to. When those fires were put out, the debris those fires may have burned has now built up. Those Ponderosa Pine and Western Larch trees were widely spaced in the past. Few trees grew tall enough to even get close to their limbs. As these fire crews put these fires out, those conditions changed. The brush built up, the other trees, Grand Fir, Douglas Fir, small Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, and others new grew taller. Instead of a few hundred trees per acre, now there are thousands. The entire forest canopy is touching side to side and more importantly from the forest floor to the tallest trees.
Putting out the fires is good, especially when the fire threatens homes, communities, and other valuable resources. Those actions would have been fine if they had come back in and managed those forests. Land managers should have planned to thin trees that didn’t belong there. Making sure that the tree spacing allowed the fire to reach the forest floor and stay there. Maybe even thin the forest, do some logging, and then come back when the season is appropriate to use prescribed fire to remove undesirable material. Unfortunately, the vast majority of land received inaction after the fires were put out.
Now we find ourselves with forests that are not only overstocked, but they are dead and dying. They are absolute tinderboxes of fuel. Ready for dry lighting, hot days, and high winds to turn what were once green forests into black and gray wastelands.
To make matters worse, the Forest Service is incentivized to keep this happening. Funding for fires is almost unlimited while forest management funds keep getting cut or held at levels that are pathetic. In 2015 on the Colville National Forest, which is only 1.1 million acres, our government spent over $300 million fighting fires. The entire annual budget for the forest hovers around $15 million. Many of the people that are tasked with managing the forests, or at least doing the planning so projects can get put out for bid, are training to fight the fires. When the fires come many are away for months.
We need to take a close look at how and why these fires are funded. So many people are fired up (pardon the pun) about getting fire funding fixed so we can stop “fire borrowing.” The USFS borrows money from other budgets and then hope some sort of special funding source pays it back. It’s a strange system that is certainly broken. We aren’t asking enough questions. Like why we are spending so much money on fires and seeing little to no results? How is this money being spent? How much do we spend on complex fires when they burn uncontrollably? If it’s too out of control to fight, what the hell are all those firefighters doing? How much are we paying for equipment to sit in fields and never go to work?
For some time, I have been noticing things. They add up to some interesting observations. Here are some of the things I have noticed and then I’ll provide my theory. Resources get dispersed sparingly until fires get very big, and then spending is unlimited. “After all it’s a disaster, how can you put a price on that?” Crews from all over the country get shifted to places they don’t know and have little to no connection with.
These fire camps look like summer camps. Food trucks, ice cream trucks, tents covering entire school playfields or repurposed ag lands. Stories of things like having no new chains for chainsaws, but unlimited new chainsaws. Gear from each fire like hats, sweatshirts, t-shirts, and who knows what else worn like badges of honor. Lack of coordination between crews where local equipment operators are asked to stand down or in some cases have their equipment moved to other parts of the region. These are enough to paint a picture.
This theory is a situation where wildfire funding is unlimited and we have no incentives to change it and no accountability. A culture has been created that glorifies the forest firefighting. It’s addictive and lucrative for these workers. Some work very hard, others work the system hard. Does the Forest Service really want to solve this issue? Actions say no. Does Congress realize that we get almost nothing from spending all this money on complex fires? What would happen if we cut the funding to the complex fires by half? Would there be a difference in fire behavior?
Based on the example on the Colville National Forest from 2015, what if we had capped the spending at $200 million and put $50 million into the annual budget for management? Would the long-term effects be better or worse for our forests?
Real Solutions Needed
I’m not suggesting that we abandon firefighting. I’m demanding that we look at this holistically. How can we be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find money to manage our forests and expect a different outcome? We allow unlimited money to fight fires that are the result of fighting fires and not managing our forests. This is equivalent to using credit cards to pay off other credit cards and expecting one day to be out of debt.
We are smarter and better than this. We need data and maps to figure out how to reduce our fuel loads and we need to do it immediately, even if it’s at the expense of fire funding in the short term.
Since publishing the A to Z blog post, readers have been asking how the court appearance actually went. Many of you may know how to find these videos, but in case you didn’t here it is. This is the 34-minute video of the appeal hearing. It was quite interesting to be there in person.
As of the time this blog is published, we don’t know the decision of the judges. We remain hopeful that the good work in the forest will continue. The group that worked on this did their very best to influence a project that was balancing the needs of forest thinning with wildlife habitat and clean water. The early indications from the project are all overwhelmingly positive. The forest looks amazing as it gets back to a natural spacing. The forest can now withstand fire when it comes, which is a far cry from the condition it was in.
Sustainable Northwest Summer Board meeting in Colville
Two weeks following the appeal hearing, the SNW Board had the opportunity to go into the woods and tour the project. Seeing first hand what the forest looked like before and what it looks like immediately after restoration work. It was a great time to provide a Q & A to better understand the goals of the project.
Forest Industry Infrastructure Creates Value
The following day the group had the opportunity to visit the Vaagen Bros. Lumber mill in Colville. Seeing both the work in the woods and then the way the small logs were turned into lumber, chips, biomass, sawdust, and shavings created a clear picture of the value created from and for the forest. Having healthy forest industry infrastructure helps offset the cost of forest management.
In the case of Northeast Washington, the infrastructure is so well developed that the Forest Service actually gets retained receipts from the products (logs). These retained receipts are able to fund other forest restoration work and we hope even more. If we build more right-sized infrastructure we might be able to solve funding issues for other parts of the Forest Service like recreation, road maintenance, and possibly even money back to the counties.
With fires burning again and homes being threatened and destroyed at an increasing rate, changes will be made. We need to engage and make sure that we create a positive future for our forests. There are some legislative bills in Washington DC that have many people talking. We need comprehensive engagement so we can make changes that benefit everyone and the forest.
There’s a great deal of talk in today’s forest management circles about the use of prescribed fire as a tool to manage forests. Fire can certainly be a great tool to reduce forest fuels and maintain tree spacing. It’s been used by mother nature for eons. So much so that many tree species like Ponderosa Pine and Western Larch have become resistant to fire in order to survive the regular intervals of lightning caused fires.
Active Management and Prescribed Fire
Prescribed fire should be used in conjunction with active forest management. There are certainly areas where fire might be used on it’s own. It’s ideally performed in the front country with established road systems. In these areas we can commercially thin or log these areas to achieve historical spacing. The next season it could be very beneficial to conduct prescribed fire.
What is the A to Z project? This is a US Forest Service project that is very unique. It’s located on the Colville National Forest in Northeast Washington State.
What makes A to Z Unique?
This project is a forest restoration project that is approximately 54,000 acres of forest land in NE Washington. Most projects on federal land are sold after the Forest Service has conducted the necessary environmental analysis as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This process can take many years to complete for a variety of reasons. In this case the Forest Service sold the project prior to completing the NEPA process. Hence the name, A to Z. Continue reading “A to Z”
The following is from a Column that I write for Timber Processing Magazine and appears in the June 2017 issue. Special thanks to Rich Donnell and the team at Hatton-Brown Publishing for providing the platform for me to share my thoughts.
The duties imposed on Canadian softwood lumber imports to the United States has everyone talking. That includes the National Association of Home Builders. As I was reading and writing on this subject I came across several quotes and ideas that simply aren’t accurate. Some statements from the NAHB stood out.
The first comments I will highlight are from comments made on NAHB’s own website dated April 25th, 2017. This statement is titled “Statement from NAHB Chairman Granger MacDonald on Comments by Commerce Secretary Ross Regarding Canadian Lumber Tariffs.”
“If the 20 percent lumber duty remains in effect throughout 2017, NAHB estimates this will result in the loss of nearly $500 million in wages and salaries for U.S. workers, $350 million in taxes and other revenue for the governments in the U.S. and more than 8,200 full-time U.S. jobs. Lumber prices have already jumped 22 percent since the beginning of the year, largely in anticipation of new tariffs, adding nearly $3,600 to the price of a new single-family home.
“Clearly, protectionist measures to prop up domestic lumber producers at the expense of millions of U.S. home buyers and lumber users is not the way to resolve the U.S.-Canada trade dispute or boost the U.S. economy.”
These numbers do not pass the smell test. Lumber has gone up about 20% since Trump was elected President. In the world of wholesale lumber that equals about $85 per thousand board feet. If a single-family house uses 15,000 board feet of framing lumber that increase represents $1,275 increase over the period, not $3,600.
What about the loss of jobs? Are we to believe that due to an increase of $1,275 per new home start would have such a disastrous effect on home building? US Census figures put the average home price in the US over $350,000 including land. An increase of .3% will not have those effects.
Realities of International Trade
Another quote from another statement dated April 21st, 2017 from Mr. MacDonald, NAHB Chairman says:
“The fact that Canada is seeking alternative sources to the U.S. for its lumber exports should serve as a wake-up call to Washington policymakers. More than one-third of the lumber used in the U.S. last year came from exports because the U.S. does not produce enough lumber to meet the nation’s needs. Home builders need a consistent, reasonably priced supply of lumber to keep housing affordable for hard-working American families.”
Granger MacDonald seems to be referring to a statement made by West Fraser about looking to export more lumber to China. Before I continue, I want to state that I have a great deal of respect for West Fraser. It is one of the most forward thinking and intelligent forest industry companies in the world. The only reason West Fraser would choose to send lumber to one market over another would be for strategic pricing purposes. Even with the duty, West Fraser along with every other mill in Canada will continue to send lumber to the market that gives their company the best chance to succeed. In the long term, that’s the United States.
China, Japan, Australia, and other worldwide consumers of lumber will continue to buy lumber from the US and Canada if it makes financial sense. Until this most recent increase in lumber prices, the United States and Canadian builders enjoyed some of the lowest lumber prices in the world. Not only that, North American wood fiber is some of the best quality and strongest lumber in the world. Even at $435/mbf, home builders in the US are getting a fair deal when it comes to lumber. (UPDATE: As of June 8, 2017, the price of framing lumber as reported by Random Lengths has dropped to $398/mbf.)
More Bad Math
On April 25th, 2017 NAHB released another statement, this time with both bad and good information. This one was titled “Proposed Lumber Duties Will Harm Consumers, Housing Affordability.” Here’s the bad:
These price hikes have negative repercussions for millions of Americans. It takes about 15,000 board feet to build a typical single-family home and the lumber price increase in the first quarter of this year has added almost $3,600 to the price of a new home.
Let’s show some simple math using these numbers. If this is true, that means that lumber would have increased $240/mbf ($3,600/15mbf = $240). If we were seeing a $240 increase on lumber I think it would be time to consider cashing in your chips and wait for the crash, and buy back at a discount. I don’t know where they are getting their information, but it’s not accurate and it has to stop.
What about Logs?
As for the good, from the same statement referenced above:
Increase domestic production by seeking higher targets for timber sales from publicly-owned lands and opening up additional federal forest lands for logging in an environmentally sustainable manner.
This could open the door for discussion that would allow the NAHB and the Forest Industry to jointly enter into discussions with the Trump Administration and Congress on doing a better job managing our forest resources. The United States has some of the best forest practices in the world. We should be focused on making the most of our resources while balancing the needs of society and the environment.
In another quote from Bloomberg in a piece from Joe Light titled “Homebuilders Could Be Losers in Early Test of Trump Trade Policy,” there were numerous parts of this piece that didn’t come together for me, much of which we already covered. The most troubling part was at the tail end.
“Fearing further supply disruptions, the homebuilders’ association has searched for lumber in other countries.
Chile looked like one promising source and the homebuilders sent a delegation there in September to meet with producers. But weeks of fires this year ravaged Chile’s forests, making it unlikely the country will be a large supplier anytime soon.”
Time to come together
The US lumber producers really need to work with groups like NAHB to educate them on the issues. If their interest is more stable pricing, then we should develop a coalition to make more wood or logs available to US producers.
It’s time to reach out and build collaborative strength with groups like the NAHB. The builders certainly have a stake in this value chain. It’s up to us to inform them of our issues and interests. This whole issue is about fair trade. We all have more in common than what may put us at odds. Identifying our collective interests is the best way to find solutions everyone can prosper from.
May 22nd to May 26th, we had the opportunity to visit the epicenter of Mass Timber. Europe has been developing the market for mass timber production and construction for more than a decade. It’s not much of a surprise to see Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Beams (Glulam) structures in most parts of Europe. And that is continuing to grow.
On May 23rd, we stopped in London to see Waugh Thistleton. Considered by many as the world leaders in Mass Timber design. They have many projects completed with many more to come. There’s a small, unassuming sign above the mid-block, street level entrance. The firm looks like many architecture firms. Two rows of desks with designers quietly looking at their screens, adjusting current projects.
We were quickly greeted by Karis Eaves, who had helped arrange the visit. Unfortunately, we were not able to spend any time with the ever-busy Andrew Waugh, but he set us up with Architect Luke Pawlina. We were quickly outfitted with hard hats and safety vests to visit a nearby site. We walked for about 7 minutes to their latest project. A five-level timber structure of CLT called Pitfield Street. The project will be a beautiful mixed residential structure, that when finished, will look like the beautiful 1914 structure Hoxton Cinema.
Waugh Thistleton works hard to find projects that will be best suited in Timber because they have a strong conservation ethic. As Andrew Waugh says in his speaking engagements, they don’t think it’s enough to build without considering the primary building products. Simply including solar power or wind power isn’t enough. To be truly eco-friendly, the choice of Timber helps store the embedded carbon in the wood. At the same time using CLT and Glulam helps support healthy, managed forests and rural economies. A true win-win. We salute Waugh Thistleton. We are grateful for the time spent with us while in London.
Our next stop was in Munich, Germany. From there we drove 2 ½ hours to the small village of Sachsenburg, Austria. There you will find a quaint little mountain town with lots of history. Sawmilling and timber experts, Hasslacher Norica Timbers are headquartered here. They recently celebrated 115 years of business. Their sawmill and value added facility is an ever-expanding site with many new timber buildings housing new projects. The sawmill is impressive, but it’s what they do following that really sets them apart.
They look to add the most value possible at each stage. They create biomass power, produce wood pellets, beautiful pattern boards, and all types of Glulam beams. All in one integrated facility. 20 miles away they have another very impressive plant that produces CLT. This was my second visit to Hasslacher in 15 months. The change in that time was truly impressive. And more changes are on the way.
The Glulam plant is amazing. It combines two Kallesoe multi beam presses that lead to multiple Hundegger CNC lines for finishing. The beams can be produced up to 88 feet in length. It appears that nearly everything is produced with a destination in mind. A far cry from the commodity production seen in so much of North America. The buildings themselves are incredible. Massive timber beams supporting CLT and Glulam paneled roof systems. They made all the walkways or catwalks with wood. It’s awesome.
The CLT plant has a Kallesoe press capable producing 8-foot-wide, 60-foot-long panels. This unique layup line allows for openings prior to being pressed. Allowing for better lumber utilization. Springer wood handling equipment help move the lumber and lamellas into place. Following the press the panels are transferred to the Hundegger CNC line. Since the last visit in February of 2016 they have added on to the building and added a new CNC line from the SCM Group. This time of year, the plant is buzzing with activity with pressure behind every order.
A new Kallesoe press is being delivered in October 2017. Upgrades to the finger jointing and pressing should nearly double their capacity to produce CLT. It’s incredible to see how much value they are adding to what was traditional lumber.
Off to the world-wide wood show in Hannover, Germany. This marks the third time I’ve attended Ligna. It never ceases to amaze. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to see the entire thing. To say it’s huge is an understatement. Massive halls with everything from small hand tools to large robots. Some displays are fully functional wood handling systems with demonstrations on going. Others had full size equipment on display before being shipped to its final destination somewhere in the world. Companies like Ledinek, System TM, Microtec, Springer, Weinig, Linck, Nicolson, Conception, USNR, had displays to name a few. We also spent time with friends from Veisto, Valuetec, Kallesoe, Minda, and Henkel.
If you like wood this is the place for you. Outside, between the halls there are trucks, lift trucks, logging equipment, personal hobby sawmills, and everything in between. Attendees from all over the planet come to see the latest and greatest in their respective market segment. The overall sentiment and outlook of the visitors was very positive according to many of the exhibitors. Deals were being discussed regularly with many quotes being put together for future purchase decisions.
For some companies, Ligna is only a short drive. Minda is one of those. Being 90 minutes from show floor, we arranged a factory tour. Gerhard Binder was kind enough to break away from the show to let us see the company’s manufacturing capabilities. The weather couldn’t have been better. It was sunny and clear with warm temperatures. When we arrived, the place was a ghost town. You see, Thursday was the European Father’s Day and that leads to a long weekend with very few working on Friday or the weekend.
The lack of activity allowed us to walk through the work stations and see the components up-close and personal. We saw some familiar names on some of the almost completed projects destined for North America. Respectfully, we won’t name them here. We were impressed by the facilities and the components. In the office there were displays of completed lines as well as product renderings. Minda has been around for a few decades now. They have a reputation for building quality and innovating in mass timber and corrugated box markets. I look forward to seeing more of their products in action in North America and worldwide.
This week was awesome. Hopefully the notes we took will help us recall much of what we witnessed. This trip showed us that mass timber is here to stay and growing rapidly. Adding value in the form of CLT and Glulam will have a serious positive effect on markets over the next few decades. There’s a great deal of opportunity in all markets to take advantage of possibilities. Once critical mass starts to take hold in North America we think it could be even bigger than what’s happening in Europe. It would sure be a good way to re-shape how we manage the intermountain forests. Providing value to urban infill needs with an eco-friendly product that also helps support rural economies while providing forest restoration. This is a worthy endeavor and we need to make this vision a reality.
We’ve seen the future. Now we just need to apply the sensibilities of the North American marketplace and build a new future for America’s forests.
What does SLA mean? For those of you that haven’t been in the lumber world, it means Softwood Lumber Agreement. This is used to refer to the agreement that the United States and Canada had for 10 years starting in 2006. Essentially it is the agreement between the two nations that regulate the trade of softwood lumber.
This issue it complicated because there are so many different details. Since we have two countries supplying the same market it is important the playing field is level.
Some of the most impressive places on our public lands are the vast and wild backcountry. These snow-capped peaks, high mountain lakes, and untamed landscapes are special to most Americans. Some of these areas deserve the protection of legislated wilderness or national monuments, while others should merely be recognized and managed for their wild characteristics.
Regardless of the type, we should use collaboration to identify these areas that haven’t already been designated. You may wonder why we are going from Active Management in a previous blog post, directly to Backcountry. During collaborative work within the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition we have found that by focusing efforts on the two bookends, the middle section (Conservation Management) shows itself. Continue reading “The Backcountry”
This medium is very important for sharing information and ideas about how we can successfully manage our forests. Writing stories and posting pictures helps transport readers where the issue is front and center, the forest. Forest Videos are the next step.
The world is changing around us and we must change our behavior and actions to keep up. We live in a video dominated world. Theforestblog has created a YouTube channel and will be creating video content. These videos will focus on many of the topics you see here. Like this one: