By Marcus Kauffman, Oregon Department of Forestry
A new vision for mass timber in the Northwest
The 2023 Forest to Frame Tour, hosted by the Council of Western State Foresters (CWSF) Forest Products Committee (FPC) and the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), on May 24-25, 2023, focused on the Oregon Mass Timber Coalition’s (OMTC) use of mass timber to drive sustainable economic development.
The three-day tour brought together nearly 30 participants from five western states (CA, CO, OR, UT, and WA) to explore the northwest’s innovative approach to building a modular mass timber housing supply chain sourced from sustainably managed forests.
“Mass timber is an important emerging opportunity,” said Marcus Kauffman, ODF Biomass Resource Specialist. “This tour provided wood utilization professionals first-hand practical knowledge about its development in the Northwest.”
Funded by the $41.4 million Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), the OMTC is a collaboration that includes ODF, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, the Port of Portland, the Department of Land Conservation and Development, and Business Oregon.
Raising the roof on mass timber
The Pacific Northwest is known as a hub for mass timber with innovative manufacturing, iconic buildings, and world-class architecture and engineering. And, of course, Oregonians have a deep connection with timber and forests. When the Port of Portland announced that the new roof over the terminal at PDX would be built with mass timber, it signaled a bold expansive role for the Port and mass timber. In a nod to the Port’s inspired choice, the Forest to Frame Tour began under the soaring mass timber roof at the Portland International Airport.
The roof embodies the possibilities of mass timber. Rooted in history while reaching to the future, it supports the region’s forests and brings new transparency to the supply chain. The undulating roof contains more than 2.2 million board feet of lumber from northwest forests, much of it sourced from the Yakama and Coquille tribal forests and all of it manufactured in the region.
From the inspiration to fabrication
After photos on the tarmac, the group stopped at Timberlab for insights into mass timber fabrication. Created by Swinerton Builders early in 2021, Timberlab was formed to serve the growing need for a general contracting company to oversee procurement, engineering, fabrication, and installation of mass timber.
From the airport roof, the group traveled to Corvallis to walk through the world-class research facilities at the TallWood Design Institute (TDI) on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis. TDI is a leader in applied mass timber research and an important source of innovations and breakthroughs. The group heard about the research, development, and prototyping efforts needed to bring forth a modular mass timber industry. For example, the prototyping research underway at the University of Oregon aims to find cost-effective solutions to modular mass timber housing and retrofits.
Innovation and investment in mass timber
The research stop highlighted the intellectual investments being made to advance mass timber. The next stop, the Freres Mass Plywood facility, showcased the private investment in mass timber manufacturing. The Freres mill is the first new large-scale wood products facility in Oregon in 20 years. A long-time plywood producer, Freres saw the opportunity to bring a new product to the growing mass timber market. Being able to tap the research and development expertise at the TallWood Design Institute helped Freres make the most of their $45 million investment in the new facility.
Lack of certainty in log supply is a perennial concern for the wood products industry. To explore log supply more deeply, the group finished up with a tour of a Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) timber sale on the Detroit Ranger District of the Willamette National Forest. Long-time collaborators, ODF and the Willamette are demonstrating how federal forest restoration and resilience treatments can provide much needed small-diameter logs for the growing mass timber industry.
Oregon’s Federal Forest Restoration Program and its GNA work has brought additional capacity to federal agencies in performing much needed forest health treatments while contributing to the growth of forest product and biomass innovations.
“This tour connected Oregon’s forest health and housing crises. It drove home the importance of using the available tools to help solve them, including GNA,” said Kyle Sullivan-Astor, ODF Federal Forest Restoration Program Lead and CWSF GNA Task Force Secretary. “Oregon’s approach sets the table for forest managers, architects, conservation finance, and economic development representatives to collaborate on a shared solution. We need to adopt this approach elsewhere if we are going to solve the big challenges we face in Oregon and across the West.”
Reflecting on the tour, current CWSF FPC Chair, Bergen Eskildsen of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands said, “I found it very informative and engaging. I also really enjoyed meeting all the participants and soaking in all aspects of the mass timber supply chain.”
To learn more about the CWSF Forest Products Committee, visit https://www.westernforesters.org/about/committees/forest-products-committee. To learn more about GNA, visit https://www.thewflc.org/partnerships/gna-information-and-resources.
Photos: Dan Bihn, Kyle Sullivan-Astor, and Marcus Kauffman