From the Portland Tribune, August 15, 2013
By Steve Law
Here's a link to the original article.
Want to buy sustainably produced lumber for your new deck or house?
It’s not as simple as you’d think.
For years, a debate has raged among supporters of two competing programs that certify wood products were harvested and milled in a sustainable manner.
The Forest Stewardship Council formed in the early 1990s, when environmentalists alarmed by deforestation of tropical forests teamed with industry leaders in Europe to set ecological standards for the cutting and milling of timber. They created the FSC product label to assure consumers those standards were met.
In response, big timber companies in the American Forest and Paper Association created a more lenient certification system, enabling their products to be stamped with the rival Sustainable Forestry Initiative or SFI label.
Many environmentalists, especially the advocacy group ForestEthics, denounce the SFI as greenwashing — giving a green veneer to timber-cutting practices that degrade forests. ForestEthics pressures retail chains to stop carrying SFI-certified wood and paper products.
The fight has ensnared the U.S. Green Building Council and its widely used LEED rating system.
Developers only earn LEED credits for using sustainably harvested wood if it meets or beats FSC standards. Big timber companies, partly shut out of the green building market, have lobbied the Green Building Council — in vain — to accept SFI certification. Turning up the political heat, timber companies have prodded Congress and some states to dump the use of LEED rating systems altogether for government buildings.
Some politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, say the green building exclusion for SFI could punish Oregon’s timber industry, because it’s the predominant certification system here, with 3.2 million acres compared to 566,929 acres for FSC.
Many academics and government foresters are avoiding the fight, arguing that both certification systems improve forest practices and can reasonably claim to promote forest sustainability.
But the two camps have decidedly different notions of forest sustainability.
The FSC uses a more robust conservation-based approach to preserving forest ecosystems, says Bob Van Dyk, forest policy manager for the Wild Salmon Center in Portland.
FSC’s national board includes leaders of the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, and it’s endorsed by the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.
In contrast, the SFI is tailored to support the ongoing use of forests to produce timber. Supporters argue that if forests produce ongoing jobs in the woods and revenues from timber-cutting, that thwarts pressure to convert forest lands into subdivisions or other developments.
“The key to this whole thing is we have generations of wood coming up for our kids,” says Bob Luoto, an SFI board member from McMinnville who runs a logging and trucking company.
Though both certification systems arguably help preserve forests, the differences between the two are large enough to drive a log truck through.
Differences are clear cut
The FSC, as it applies in Oregon, generally restricts clear-cuts to 6 acres, says Mike Cloughesy, forestry director for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, a Portland agency created by the Legislature that’s funded by the timber industry and designed to nurture it.
SFI allows clear-cuts that can average up to 120 acres — which can mean one clear-cut of 2 acres plus another of 238 acres — says Ryan Temple, president of Sustainable Northwest Wood, a Southeast Portland lumber yard that only sells wood that meets or exceeds FSC standards.
Cloughesy points out that clear-cuts larger than 120 acres are not allowed in Oregon under the state's forest practices rules, though larger clear-cuts are allowed in SFI-certified forests in Washington and some other states.
FSC bans persistent and hazardous pesticides and herbicides, Temple says, while some are permitted under SFI. Atrazine, an herbicide banned in Europe and by the FSC, is sprayed by helicopter in Oregon forests certified under SFI, he says.
“That herbicide ends up in a stream,” says Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild in Portland. “That may be a salmon-bearing stream. It’s probably a stream that drains into somebody’s water supply.”
FSC bars the use of genetically modified organisms, which are allowed by SFI.
FSC also forbids converting a forest from a diverse ecosystem into one planted with a single species such as Douglas fir, which is permitted by SFI.
Critics say SFI merely sets standards that timber operations in Oregon already must meet under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.
“It’s just a straight-out agricultural model and not a biological or ecological model,” Van Dyk says.
Initially at least, SFI was “straight greenwashing” designed to give the timber industry “green cover,” Van Dyk says. “As I look at lands that are managed in Oregon under the SFI brand, I’m not comforted that there are strong conservation standards.”
However, he acknowledges the system has improved over the years in response to criticism.
Pedery says SFI may bring “marginal improvements” to forest management in some cases, but he thinks the greenwashing label is fair. “The impression given to the consumer is they bought a sustainably produced piece of wood for their home,” he says. “I don’t think anyone should look at it as a green seal.”
SFI supporters say environmentalists don’t get that timber companies must earn profits to keep the industry thriving here. For timber companies to be competitive in Western Oregon forests, Luoto and other SFI supporters say, they need to rely on clear-cutting and herbicides.
Clear-cutting is a cheaper way to harvest timber. Spraying herbicides on the cleared land allows companies to replant with Douglas firs that grow without competition from other trees and shrubs. Douglas firs won’t regrow if they don’t get sunlight, Luoto says.
“In Western Oregon, especially in the Coast Range, it’s really hard to manage for production without any use of herbicides,” Cloughesy says. “When the industry manages (forest land) under SFI, they manage it as a plantation.”
Without clear-cutting and herbicides, he says, Oregon companies couldn’t compete with their counterparts in New Zealand, Chile and China.
When a consumer sees an SFI-certified product at a store, they are assured the timber company met Oregon’s strict laws to protect wildlife, streams and other environmental assets, Luoto says. While that may mean they didn’t exceed Oregon standards, he says, Idaho, Georgia and other states have more lax environmental laws. Since SFI has one national standard, that means lumber sold at a local Home Depot, produced by Portland-based Stimson Lumber Co. from Idaho timber land, met Oregon’s higher standards, Luoto says.
SFI also requires independent audits of forest practices, something not required by Oregon to assure its laws are followed, Luoto says. SFI also requires loggers and foresters to undergo 32 hours of training, including sessions on state environmental requirements, Luoto says.
SFI also undergoes periodic reviews of its standards, and will come out with revisions in 2015, Luoto says.
Temple says the SFI label and its lower standards creates “market confusion” for consumers, but he doesn’t view it as greenwashing. “It’s more the notion of ‘we’ll replant; we want to make sure that there’s always trees there,’ ” he says.
“SFI is a step in the right direction,” Temple says, while FSC might be three steps in the right direction. “There’s room for continuous improvement in any system like this.”
"Exquisite" is the word a local designer used to describe these plywood panels when he was privy to a sneak peek last week.
We're happy to introduce them to you this month and share the amazing story behind them:
The walnut veneers used in these panels are from a single large tree that was salvaged in Douglas County, Oregon. This antique tree was brought to Oregon by some of our state's first settlers, who hoped to recreate the familiar landscape of the East Coast and reap an annual bounty of nuts. More than a century later, the walnut tree succumbed to old age and had to be removed from the property before it caused damage or injury.
This one special log yielded beautiful veneers that we pressed onto FSC Certified, NAUF cores (also manufactured in Oregon).
Certification: FSC Certified, NAUF
Available thicknesses: 1/4", 1/2", and 3/4" (1/4" on MDF, 1/2" and 3/4" on plywood)
Panel size: 4' x 8'
Veneers: 1/40" thick
Grade: Both sides with "A" grade veneers: Book-matched planks with vertical grain on one side, random-matched planks on other side
Please contact us for pricing and samples.
Ever since we introduced our line of hardwood butcher blocks last fall, they've been flying out the warehouse and into homes and businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest.
And it's no wonder! They're available quickly and easily, in standard stocked sizes or in custom dimensions to suit your unique project. Plus these countertops are as eco-friendly as they come: They're made from locally-harvested wood that is either FSC certified or comes from salvaged sources.
Quick and easy: Our in-stock butcher block is available in five different local, sustainable wood options and is sized to fit a standard kitchen cabinet.
Super affordable pricing: Contact us for current pricing.
High quality: Our butcher block is built to last with kiln-dried hardwood and is glued up with FDA-approved, non-formaldehyde adhesives.
- FSC Big Leaf Maple (from Chehalis, Washington)
- Oregon White Oak (Zena Forest, Willamette Valley)
- Salvaged Walnut (Backyard salvage projects, Willamette Valley)
- Madrone (Salvage, Umpqua Valley)
- FSC Doug Fir (from either our Zigzag collection or from the Umpqua Valley)
- Juniper (Grassland restoration projects in Central and Eastern Oregon)
- Myrtle (Salvage, Umpqua Valley)
- And other species for custom orders!
In-stock sizes: 1 1/2" x 26 1/2" x lengths 48" to 120"
Photo at top: FSC Big Leaf Maple shows off tasty pastries at Miss Zumstein's in Portland.
Photos at bottom: FSC Big Leaf Maple was customized for this retail space; an extra-long madrone slab adds a warm touch to this restaurant bar.
Cellar Ridge Construction, the McMinnville-based custom home builder, is a big fan of juniper. They've used it for a number of unique applications, giving their finished projects a distinctive look and the decades of durability that this rot-resistant wood promises.
Earlier this year, a homeowner transforming her patio wanted something distinctive and slightly rustic that would help her property visually tie into the wooded parkland behind her home. Naturally, Cellar Ridge chose juniper for the decking, siding, structural timbers, and raised beds.
For a LEED Platinum remodel completed last year in Dundee, Cellar Ridge used massive juniper beams to add authenticity and attitute to the Mediterranean-style home. The juniper lends an incomparable look to the home, especially with its dramatic dark stain.
Photo at Top: Juniper is used for the decking, raised beds, siding, hand rails, and structural supports of this welcoming patio in McMinnville.
Photo at Bottom: Juniper beams frame the entrance and enhance the eaves on this charming Mediterranean casa in Dundee.
Though we are supportive of all our local Forest Stewardship Council certified businesses, we feel that those who were FSC certified "before certification was cool" deserve special mention. The Collins Companies has been based in Portland since 1918. Operating 4 mills in the Pacific Northwest, this family-owned company has been an important member of our community for generations.
Their commitment to place is matched by their commitment to sustainability: The Collins forests began implementing advanced sustainability practices nearly 100 years ago, and 20 years ago their forest and mill in Chester, CA became the very first to achieve FSC certification in North America.
The management of their forests has earned Collins accolades from groups including the Sierra Club, and the forests continue to provide habitat for a diverse number of species including Chinook salmon, black bears, beavers, mink and marmots, and many kinds of birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Like an oenophile waiting for special vintages, Sustainable Northwest Wood snatches up Douglas Fir lumber from Collins mills as often as we can.
The load of beautiful wane-free "Appearance Grade" lumber that just arrived at our warehouse demonstrates that quality, sustainability, and fair pricing can all come in the same package.
This month we're pleased to announce that our FSC lumber priced are considerably lower than the highs hit earlier this year. Be sure to contact us about bidding your next project with FSC wood!
Photo at top: Collins' Almanor forest is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species.
Photo at right: The Collins lumber mill in Chester, CA sits on the shore of Lake Almanor. This mill and the forest that surrounds it were the first to achieve FSC certification in North America.
Our forest lands are caught in the middle of an epic struggle. Demand for forest products is perpetually increasing, fueled by global market pressures and the thirst for economic growth and the jobs and prosperity it brings. At the same time, dedicated conservation groups are working harder than ever to protect fragile forest lands from potentially harmful harvest activities.
This discord frequently bubbles up in the public discourse, as proposals for new harvests are made and then lawsuits filed to prevent their execution, in an expensive and taxing process that ties up the legal system and breeds ill will between different groups of citizens.
Meanwhile, the forests of the American West continue to suffer. Decades of intensive logging practices and fire suppression, coupled with massive outbreaks of infestations and disease, have left vast tracts of forest unhealthy, overcrowded, undernourished, and at risk of exploding into flame at the first suggestion of a spark.
(Photo at left: The mountain pine beetle has killed the majority of trees near Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon, putting the area at risk for a major fire. Photo from summitpost.org.)
As our parent non-profit Sustainable Northwest has shown, there is a perfect solution that addresses all of these problems, with results that please all participating parties: Collaborative restoration.
Collaborative restoration brings industry, environmental groups, and local and federal government officials to the same table to work out solutions that benefit all of the stakeholders while improving forest health. It sounds like a tall order, but it can be done -- and is being done, thanks to the dedication of Sustainable Northwest.
An example of the success of collaborative restoration can be seen in Grant County, Oregon. Grant County used to support four sawmills, but as the economy contracted in the 80's and as the timber in Malheur National Forest became harder to procure due to increasing environmental pressures, three of those mills closed and hundreds of local families were left without jobs or a reliable income.
(Photo at right: Sustainable Northwest staffers meet with members of the Blue Mountain Forest Partners to discuss forest restoration.)
In 2006, Sustainable Northwest stepped in and helped found the Blue Mountain Forest Partners, which consists of representatives from the remaining mill; environmental lawyers and non-profits that had previously filed suit against the Forest Service to prevent additional harvests; foresters from the Forest Service; local government officials; and other interested individuals.
Together, these disparate groups worked together to draft a plan to restore forest health, reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire while allowing some logs to be harvested to feed the mill.
Because of the collaborative's work, no lawsuits have been filed in 6 years. The restoration work has resulted in significantly improved forest health in the areas in which it has been done, and planned restoration work is growing to tens of thousands of acres in the coming years. And the local mill has been able to stay open and provide jobs for many families in Grant County.
The group has been heralded as a model for other regions, and its success has garnered the attention of Senators Wyden and Merkley, who have pledged support for collaborative restoration projects.
(Photo at left: Strawberry Lake in Malheur National Forest attracts many visitors each year and is home to a rich variety of animal and plant life.)
As Sustainable Northwest's president Martin Goebel says, "We must help timber communities flourish to restore the health and resilience of forests, watersheds and wildlife habitats. We all reap the 'harvest' from forest health--clean air, water, abundant wildlife and landscapes that define our love of place."
As more people learn about the benefits of FSC certified wood and seek to use it in their projects, we field questions from around the country about where to find these products.
Whether you're a homeowner in central Florida or a cabinet maker in Queens, it can sometimes be a challenge to source the FSC wood you want -- or need -- to use in your project.
Rest assured, FSC certified alternatives do exist and can be found. Here are some ways you can track them down in your area:
FSC provides a handy tool to help you search for certified products in your area. Called the Marketplace, this handy tool is still in development, so if you can't find what you're looking for on this website, don't despair, it my still be available. Here's the link: http://marketplace.fsc.org/.
The best tool might be right at your finger tips: A great way to find FSC products is to perform a Google search with area- or product-specific targeted keywords, i.e. "FSC lumber Orlando" or "FSC hardwood plywood."
The DIY set can inquire at their local Home Depot, which has been working with FSC certified products since the 90's. In most stores, their FSC offering is somewhat limited, so be sure to look for the trademark FSC logo.
Shoppers in the Bay Area can refer to the local Sierra Club chapter's handy FSC shopping guide.
Many locally-owned, independent lumber yards also can procure FSC wood, even if they don't stock it. So be sure to ask the sales staff for FSC, and be persistent in your queries. The more that folks like you demand FSC, the more it will be available across the country!
Families across America are reintegrating home gardens into their lives, working to increase the amounts of health-giving homegrown fruits and vegetables in their diets. Because of this, folks frequently ask us about the best type of wood to use for their planter boxes and raised garden beds.
Raised beds are a great idea because they protect growing plants from the scuffs and kicks of passersby while allowing the soil to warm faster in the springtime, generating an earlier crop. They're also quite decorative and can add significant charm to vegetable gardens.
By building the boxes out of a beautiful, durable, and chemical-free material, you'll take an important step toward guaranteeing that your yard bears many decades of abundant and nourishing crops. (Click here for plans for easy-to-build, affordable juniper raised beds, and here for a Pinterest gallery of ideas.)
Here are the types of wood that are commonly used for this purpose, and the pros and cons of each:
The lifespan data above is derived in part from an ongoing study at OSU that tracks the durability of treated and untreated posts in ground-contact applications. Click here for full results.
Photo at top: Juniper 6x6 landscaping timbers used for retaining wall, raised beds, and stairs
When most folks embark on a building project, deliberately setting the wood on fire doesn't immediately come to mind as a brilliant move.
But when the desired outcome is a significantly extended lifespan, lighting the wood on fire is a great idea!
The technique has been around for centuries. Known in Japan as shou sugi ban, this style of finishing wood can extend the life of your cedar siding by many decades -- up to 80 years in exposed applications.
It also looks beautiful and provides a dramatic contrasting color to an otherwise predictable installation, with none of the added chemicals or annual re-application needed with a stain.
The projects shown in these photos use our FSC Western Red Cedar. The technique can be applied to other wood species as well, such as Douglas and others with a distinctive grain pattern. Check out how Pioneer Millwork applied shou sugi ban to oak.
For more inspiration, check out these photos on Pinterest, and read architect Michelle Jeresek's post on Houzz to see how to do it.
One enduring design trend that we love is the live-edge slab. As individual as the tree that yielded it, this natural cut of wood retains the unique lines of the trunk along one or two edges, giving each finished piece a completely one-of-a-kind profile.
While people have certainly been using slabs of wood as work surfaces for millennia, the modern live-edge look dates back to the 1940's, when famed furniture designer George Nakashima first introduced it in his collection for Knoll. His passion for nature is clearly expressed in the highlighting of the uniqueness of each piece of wood.
These days, live-edge is commonly used for dining and conference tables, coffee and console tables, bar tops, reception desks, and some positively dreamy headboards. While it is often executed in a rustic way, the organic element of the wild edge provides relief from the hard materials commonly used in modern design. It pairs especially well with bare concrete and helps soften the lines in a harshly linear space.
We keep live-edge slabs in stock in Portland, ready to be transformed into your work of art. Click here for the available species. We also have more photos of recent installations posted on our gallery.