I was proud to represent Oregon forestry on a recent City Club of Portland panel discussing Oregon Agriculture in a Changing Climate. The impact of climate change on Oregon agriculture and forestry is an important topic. Here are some of the thoughts I shared in the discussion about how climate change is likely to affect Oregon forests.
There are several shifts that are happening to our climate in the Pacific Northwest. In general, the region is having warmer summer and winter temperatures, less precipitation in some areas and more in others, and more rain and less snow in the mountains.
So what does this mean for our forests? There are four main impacts a changing climate is likely to have on our forests.
Fire seasons will be longer. Historically, fire season started in Oregon around July 1 and ran until Oct. 1. In recent years, it has started two to three weeks earlier and lasted one to two weeks longer. Fires in June have been burning like it was July. This requires more resources to fight the fires. This also presents a need to increase the fire resiliency of our forests by thinning and reducing dry brush and other fuel that helps spread wildfires. Knowing that fire and drought will be more common, many foresters and landowners are thinning out the trees in their forests so there are fewer per acre. This allows the residual trees to be more fire- and drought-resistant than in denser stands of trees. Managing fire-prone forests is summarized in OFRI’s State of Fire special report.
Marginal forestland will be difficult to reforest if the trees are lost in a fire. The Barry Point fire on the Fremont-Winema National Forest near Lakeview burned thousands of acres and killed most of the trees. Because of the changing climate, it will be hard to restore these burned areas back to forestland. That’s because parts of the Fremont-Winema and surrounding areas are located in a part of Oregon where trees tend to grow more slowly and are less likely to survive. Climate change and fire have made it trickier to reforest these areas, because changing environmental conditions have made them better suited to grassland than forestland.
In drier forests with a mix of tree species, there will be a shift toward more drought-tolerant species. In southwestern Oregon, many of the forests are a mixture of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine and hardwoods. Many private forest landowners in this region selectively harvest trees. Currently, landowners are harvesting more Douglas-fir and favoring leaving ponderosa pine and hardwoods standing because they can handle the drought better. In the mixed-conifer forests in central and eastern Oregon, foresters also manage primarily by harvesting selectively. In the face of a changing climate, foresters are preserving more ponderosa pine than Douglas-fir, grand fir or lodgepole pine, because ponderosa pine has better fire- and drought-resilience.
Douglas-fir will continue to be the species of choice in most northwest Oregon forests. Douglas-fir is a great tree. It has incredible properties that make it the species of choice for forest products. Doug-fir also has incredible genetic variation. It can survive and thrive in northwest Oregon even with a changing climate. The western hemlock, grand fir and western redcedar that grow in the same stands as Doug-fir are not as well equipped to thrive in a changing climate. It’s a blessing that our most valuable tree is also our best at adapting to a changing climate. However, foresters are continuing to plant a mix of species as extra insurance.
Oregon forests and forest landowners are a diverse and resilient lot. Recognizing that the climate is changing and how it is likely to affect our forests is allowing Oregon foresters and landowners to adapt our forest management accordingly.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
We at OFRI are just putting the finishing touches on the 2017-18 edition of our popular Oregon Forest Facts & Figures publication. As I compiled information about Oregon’s forests to update the Facts & Figures booklet, I was struck by the diversity of the forests in this state.
Variances in climate, average rainfall and wildfire frequency across Oregon affect the types of trees that grow in different parts of the state, as seen on this interactive forest types map. As a result, each forest requires a different sort of management, grows at a different rate and produces different types of timber.
Oregon’s forests also have a range of owners with different management objectives, including providing recreational opportunities, improving wildlife habitat and harvesting timber. To see how forest ownership varies across the state, check out this interactive map.
Here are a few of the many reasons our forests are so diverse:
Diversity of Forest Types
Forests of Oregon can be placed in three general types, based on geography:
Dry forests in central and eastern Oregon commonly have mixtures of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, grand fir and western larch trees. Historically, low-intensity wildfires visited these forests every two to 25 years.
Wet forests in northwest Oregon commonly have mixtures of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red-cedar and bigleaf maple. These forests historically burned at intervals of 200 years or longer, and the fires were generally very intense, killing most of the trees.
Southwest Oregon forests are a mixture of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, incense cedar and a variety of evergreen hardwoods. These forests are intermediate in fire behavior and historically burned with mixed severity every 25 to 100 years.
Diversity of Ownership and Objectives
There are three major types of forest owners in Oregon, each with different management styles:
Federal forests make up about 60 percent of Oregon’s forests. These include our 11 national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands and Crater Lake National Park. Some federal lands are managed under a reserve strategy where timber harvest is either not allowed or allowed only to improve habitat or other non-timber values. Other federal lands are managed on a multiple resource strategy for both timber production and non-timber values. In 2015, Oregon’s federal forests produced about 15 percent of the state’s timber harvest.
State forests comprise only about 4 percent of our forests. These include our six state forests and other scattered parcels. State forests are generally managed for multiple resources with focus on timber harvest, wildlife habitat and recreation. In 2015, Oregon’s state forests produced about 9 percent of all timber harvested here.
Private forests encompass the remaining 36 percent of Oregon’s forestland. Private lands are the most diverse in objectives, including lands owned by large companies, investment groups, families and Native American tribes. Private forests are the most intensively managed forests, and produce over 75 percent of the state’s timber harvest. When harvesting timber, private landowners must follow the Oregon Forest Practices Act. The set of state forest protection laws is aimed to safeguard water, fish and wildlife habitat, soil and air. Additionally, nearly 50 percent of Oregon’s private forests are certified as sustainably managed under either the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Forest Stewardship Council or the American Tree Farm System.
Whether we’re talking about forest types or forest ownership groups, there is much diversity among Oregon’s forests. This adds greatly to our bio-diversity, cultural diversity and economic diversity as a state – something else to be proud of about Oregon.
For the forest,
Director of Forestry
Last month I had the fantastic opportunity (thanks to the sponsorship of the Softwood Export Council) to join people from Business Oregon on a visit to the United Kingdom to learn about cross-laminated timber (CLT) use there. My biggest takeaway from the trip is we have a lot to learn from our friends across the pond.
The first CLT building in the U.K. was built in 2003. Since then, about 500 more CLT buildings have been constructed there. That’s somewhat remarkable given that the U.K.’s land base is slightly smaller than the state of Michigan. But at one-fifth the U.S. population, it’s also one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, which helps explain the need to build up and not out.
Why is CLT so popular in the U.K.? I learned the primary reason it was able to gain an initial foothold in the country was government officials’ recognition of wood’s sustainability benefits. Since the early 2000s, Great Britain has placed a heavy emphasis on combating climate change. They quickly recognized that wood is the only major building material that actually stores carbon removed from the atmosphere and therefore began favoring it as a building material. A proposed “wood first” policy, though not formally adopted, has gained support not only from the timber industry but also from sustainable forestry advocates who rightly recognize that increased demand for wood products creates demand for greater forest cover.
One of the visits we made on the trip was to Eurban Limited, a timber engineering contractor that helped get the first CLT building in the U.K. built. The firm has since been involved in more than 250 CLT projects there. The founding director, Jonathan Fovargue, told me, “From a sustainability standpoint a lot of initial emphasis was placed on energy-efficiency measures to reduce a building’s operating energy consumption. There is only so far that can take you. But, because of the carbon storage capacity of wood and the emissions saved by not using more energy-intensive products like concrete, you can offset decades of in-use emissions, simply by choosing to build with CLT.”
That concept was of great interest to government officials, leading them to favor wood for public works projects. I learned that most of the earliest CLT projects in the U.K. were educational buildings because there was a big need for new educational infrastructure at the time and because the efficiency and speed of CLT construction allowed schools to be built much more quickly, reducing disruptions to students and teachers.
As more and more CLT buildings went up, the construction industry began to notice that not only could these projects be constructed faster but they were also no more expensive than those using traditional materials. This got the attention of private developers, to whom things like sustainability and carbon storage are nice bonuses but savings in time and money are the real game-changers. Those early public works projects helped prove CLT could deliver on these metrics as well.
Fovargue says his firm is now routinely asked to provide estimates for wood construction of buildings originally designed for concrete. “And frequently we win the bid.”
Prior to meeting the team at Eurban, we visited with noted architect Andrew Waugh, who was in Portland and Seattle last spring to promote the notion of taller wood buildings. He had a hand in designing the UK’s first CLT building three years ago and now says all the buildings his firm designs are planned in timber. The U.K. does not have the seismic issue we have to deal with here in the Pacific Northwest, so 10-story CLT buildings are no problem, Waugh says, and projects of 15-20 stories with glulam frames and CLT cores, floors and walls are also in the works.
That same day, we had the opportunity to visit Legal & General Homes, a new modular housing factory that expects to produce 350,000 CLT houses annually once they start up production in the coming weeks. It was truly impressive. They have the world’s largest CLT press, capable of making panels 20 meters long and 6 meters wide (roughly 65 feet by 20 feet). When fully operational, the plant will use 10 truckloads of lumber each day, converting that lumber into CLT panels and assembling those into houses, complete with cabinetry, windows and doors, plumbing and light fixtures. At the other end of the factory, completed modular housing units are loaded on trucks and delivered to construction sites where they are assembled in a few hours and only need exterior cladding before being move-in ready.
Eric Dean, one of the masterminds behind this process, says CLT is the perfect material to use because it is rigid enough to withstand the precision fabrication process, delivery and on-site assembly without falling out of plumb. Manufacturing these homes in a factory is also more efficient than traditional construction, offering a low-cost solution to help address the U.K.’s growing affordable housing crisis.
Another highlight of the trip was meeting with Kay Hartmann. He’s the technical director of the London office for KLH, an Austrian CLT manufacturer and timber engineering consultant that recently opened a sales and engineering office in Portland. Hartmann provided valuable insight into development of the CLT market in the U.K. He said education buildings were the first and are still the biggest market because “public works projects have a responsibility to be both sustainable and cost-effective.”
Hartmann described one project, Mayfield Academy, where the cost savings from using CLT enabled the school to build a second building on the same site. He said the savings were derived from speed and ease of construction as well as lower materials costs.
To demonstrate the speed of CLT construction, he showed us this nifty time-lapse video. Note the reinforced concrete building in the background that started construction at the same time. When the wood building tops out at eight stories, the other one is just about to finish its third floor.
On our last day of meetings, Nick Milestone, managing director at X-Lam Alliance (and the current chair of British standards organization Trada) hosted us on a tour of the new CLT-built headquarters of Sky TV. This video helps explain what’s so cool about that.
A lot can be learned from those who got started before us. Luckily, the U.K.’s CLT building pioneers are willing to share what they’ve learned constructing 500 CLT buildings and counting. Most of the experts we met on our tour will be coming to Portland to share their wisdom at the Mass Timber Conference on March 28-30. I hope many of you will be there to hear what they have to say.
Director of Forest Products
I visited Wisconsin last week for the Society of American Foresters National Convention. Foresters are very proud people and we all think our state or region is the best. However, I have proof that Oregon is number one. I have been gathering data for our new edition of Oregon Forest Facts & Figures 2017-18, and here are some of the ways I have found that Oregon is top in the nation.
Oregon is number one in softwood lumber
No other state produces as much softwood lumber as Oregon’s 5.2 billion board feet. This represents more than 16 percent of the nation’s softwood lumber production. In fact, Oregon has led in this category for at least a decade, and probably much longer.
Top 10 states and U.S. total production (in millions of board feet)1
% of U.S. total
Oregon is number one in plywood production2
Oregon led the nation in plywood production with 2.5 billion square feet in 2015, which is nearly 30 percent of national production.
This is significantly more than the next highest plywood-producing states, Louisiana, Washington and Texas. Check it out:
Top plywood-producing states (million square feet, 3/8” basis)
% of U.S. total for 2015
Oregon is number one in engineered wood products2
Oregon has 17 engineered wood processing facilities, or 25 percent of the 68 facilities in the country. This includes glulam, I-joist, laminated veneer lumber and cross-laminated timber facilities. The APA – Engineered Wood Association doesn’t publish production statistics by state, but Oregon is clearly the leader in engineered wood products. This is important because engineered wood represents the future of forest products.
Oregon is number one in net softwood growth, but second in softwood harvest3
The reason Oregon is able to lead the nation in the major forest product categories is because we have abundant forests with primarily softwood trees, such as Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. These are the tree species that are used primarily for housing and building construction.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon grows more softwood timber than any other state in the nation, with 1.54 billion cubic feet. But in an interesting twist, Georgia jumps ahead of Oregon to be number one in softwood timber harvest. This is because most forestland in Georgia is privately owned and managed for timber production. In contrast, the majority of the forestland in Oregon is publicly owned, and unlike many privately owned forests, timber production is not the primary objective on those lands.
Top five states for softwood timber growth and harvest
Softwood net growth
(in thousand cubic feet)
(in thousand cubic feet)
The other thing foresters talk a lot about is football. So, it is nice to know that even though Washington has the best football team in the Pacific Northwest this year, we beat them again in every major forestry category.
For the forest and the Beaver State,
Director of Forestry
1 Forest Economic Advisors LLC. Personal communication: October 2016. www.getfea.com
2 Joe Elling. Structural Panel and Engineered Wood Yearbook. APA – The Engineered Wood Association. Tacoma, Wash. April 2016.
3 Brad Smith et al. Forest Resources of the United States, 2007. USDA Forest Service, GTR-Wo-78. March 2009.