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Gifts from Trees

December 2013

Not to be a Grinch, but when it comes to gifts, trees have it all over Old Saint Nick.

Unlike the right jolly old elf who visits our stockings once a year, trees bear gifts in every season. Wood products shelters us, give our homes and furnishings character, and employ us. Trees’ gifts are too subtle for wrapping paper (note another gift of trees): they give us shade on a blazing hot day and brilliant color on a grey November afternoon, they sequester carbon and clean the air and water of pollution, improving our health and literally saving lives.

The gifts of trees get even more basic: they root us in place, growing bigger and older but remaining dependably familiar landmarks in changing personal and geographic landscapes. Even trees lost to storms become much-needed symbols of resilience.

This month, we celebrate the gifts of trees by featuring a scientist, a research project, a publication, and a partnership that highlight the multitude of gifts we receive from trees. A chorus of “O Tannenbaum,” anyone?

Featured Scientist

Jan Wiedenbeck

Research Forest Products Technologist, Jan Wiedenbeck, finds ways to improve use of wood.

Jan Wiedenbeck’s career path began on the forest trails she visited with her parents as a young child. While her first professional job was as a forest manager in the forest products industry, she eventually traded producing wood products for researching wood manufacturing processes. Today, Wiedenbeck is a team leader and research forest products technologist stationed in Princeton, West Virginia.

Wiedenbeck is interested in finding ways to improve the use of wood. Her projects have included working with furniture manufacturers to increase their interest in making furniture with character, such as knotty oak (akin to knotty pine) and gummy cherry. That work contributed to creating a demand for wood that was previously wasted. She recently contributed to research that evaluated commercial and industrial boilers in 37 states that ranked the potential for converting from existing fossil-fuel boilers to biomass boilers.

As part of research into how forest management affects high-quality timber used for veneer, Wiedenbeck developed a guide to high-quality timber attributes. Her current work includes investigating how prescribed fire and wildfire impact the quality and value of wood from high-value tree species.

Find out more on Jan Wiedenbeck's scientist profile

Featured Product

Standing and downed dead wood resulting from a stand-replacing fire in a jack pine forest in Northwest Ontario, Canada. Photo by Grant Domke, US Forest Service Northern Research StationInventories of natural and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are used by scientists, policy makers and interest groups to monitor trends related to climate change.  The carbon absorbed and stored by plants as an outcome of photosynthesis is a key variable in these greenhouse gas inventories.  The amount of carbon stored in living plants is commonly measured.  Because of the difficulty of measuring carbon in dead plant materials (coarse woody debris or CWD) however, modeled estimates, based on live tree carbon density have been used.   

Northern Research Station scientists and their partners recently investigated the potential benefits of estimating carbon in CWD from measurements collected during field inventories in place of the current modeling approach.  They did this by comparing field based estimates from a national inventory of downed dead wood across the U.S. to estimates calculated from models.  Results indicated that there were discrepancies between model estimates of carbon and estimates obtained from actual carbon measures, especially in young stands.  The scientists recommended that field based estimates of CWD be used to improve the accuracy of the inventories and improve the sensitivity of measures to potential changes due to management and climate change events. 

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Featured Research

Phytoremediation is the process trees use to clean up environmental contamination.Among the many and varied gifts that trees provide to society one of the most unique is their ability to clean up contaminated soils, sludge, sediments and water.  This ability is more commonly known as phytoremediation.  Among tree species, the hybrid poplar is a rock star when it comes to phytoremediation capabilities.  This can be attributed to a number of factors including their rapid growth (averaging 5-8 feet per year) and their ability to thrive in harsh conditions such as in soils with high salinity. 

Northern Research Station scientists and their collaborators are working to develop hybrid poplars to optimize their usefulness in removing contaminants and pollutants including industrial by-products from the environment.   A current project involves growing hybrid poplars for outplanting at the former Freshkills landfill on Staten Island in New York City to help clean up the soil as part of conversion of the landfill into a 2,200-acre park. 

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Featured Partnership

An annual housing trends survey completed jointly by Virginia Tech, Wood Products magazine and NRS.

An annual housing trends survey completed jointly by Virginia Tech, Wood Products magazine and NRS.  Publication title: Housing trends and impact on wood manufacturing

Housing and other construction-related sectors matter greatly to the secondary wood products industry. A partnership among the Northern Research Station, Virginia Tech, and the publication Wood Products is providing information and analysis that decision-makers can use to strengthen and build their businesses.  

An annual publication, which first ran in Wood Products in 2010, is based on a survey of Wood Products subscribers.  In addition, the article series has been among those most viewed by visitors to the Wood Products website.  Survey respondents across the United States represent firms making cabinets, furniture, millwork and architectural fixtures, to name a few.  The results enable managers to better understand their current business environment, and serve as a barometer of industry activity.

See the 2013 Housing trends and impact on wood manufacturing