From your home’s floor to its rafters, forest products are embedded in daily life. In recognition of the many ways we use and value wood, our October web feature spotlights research related to timber. Our stories include a scientist interested in the aesthetic value and market potential of different wood, research on getting the most out of small logs, a product that helps forest managers plan for changes in climate and a partnership that enables states to account for trees harvested and timber produced.
October is National Fire Prevention Month, and the FS is launching Smokey Bear LIVE, a distance learning adventure for educators, students, and families. Join us by watching “Smokey Bear LIVE: Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” video beginning October 6, 2019 and then join our live, interactive webcast from Capitan, NM on November 7, 2019. Register and learn more at https://smokeybearlive.org/
Matt Bumgardner, a research forest products technologist with the Northern Research Station (NRS), has always enjoyed the outdoors. Growing up, he wanted to be outside as much as possible and spent a lot of time working in the family garden and stacking firewood. “I always sought ways to learn more about nature, including reading and being active in a 4-H conservation club for many years,” said Bumgardner. “Finding good spots to fish and otherwise explore also were priorities!”
In college, Bumgardner gained a new appreciation for natural resources when he learned about the diversity of industries centered on wood and wood products. He became interested in understanding the aesthetic values associated with different wood species, primarily hardwoods (oak, cherry, maple, walnut, etc.) as he pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forestry and natural resources from Ohio State University, and a PhD in wood science and forest products from Virginia Tech.
“Many products made from hardwoods, such as furniture, cabinets, and flooring are fashion-based, and understanding trends in product design helps determine what species will be in demand in the marketplace,” said Bumgardner. “Work in this area also yields insights into the optimal levels of natural wood features (knots, mineral streaks, etc.) desired by consumers, which can improve wood utilization and preferences for wood products,” he said.
In collaboration with other scientists, Bumgardner recently completed an extensive synthesis of the literature related to customization of wood products, lean manufacturing processes, and efficient supply chains. This research indicated that manufacturing models that enable customers to configure products to their own specifications are effective strategies in locations where production costs are high. “For hardwood sawmills, this competitiveness of local wood manufacturers is beneficial in terms of generating lumber demand,” said Bumgardner. “However, it also creates challenges for sawmills to offer more services (e.g., sorting lumber for width and color, just-in-time delivery) as the manufacturers they supply become leaner and more customized.”
Bumgardner finds answering questions from industry practitioners and being invited to give presentations to trade groups particularly satisfying parts of his job. “I also enjoy the collaborative partnerships that have developed over the years with NRS scientists and those in other research stations and universities. “Long-term collaborative studies are in place with these partners that provide useful information about wood industry business trends, as well as production and market changes over time,” said Bumgardner.
Mapping US Drought projections to help Forest managers plan for changing climates
A research map developed by Northern Research Station scientists offers land managers critical information for the decisions they make today: a glimpse of how regional temperatures, precipitation, and drought may change across the United States in coming decades.
Published in 2018, Research Map NRS-9, “Assessing Potential Climate Change Pressures across the Conterminous United States: Mapping Plant Hardiness Zones, Heat Zones, Growing Degree Days, and Cumulative Drought Severity throughout this Century” delivers a visual report that is useful to natural resource managers working to sustain natural ecosystems and the benefits that they provide. In addition to the maps, the potential change in climate variables are summarized in tables according to seven national regions to provide additional regional context.
The drought projections mapping project was a collaboration among several Station researchers based in Delaware, Ohio, including Ecologist Stephen Matthews, Landscape Ecologist Louis R. Iverson, Ecologist Matthew P. Peters, and Research Ecologist Anantha M. Prasad. Beginning with a map showing baseline conditions, the research map includes projections for each of the four metrics they explored (plant hardiness zones, heat zones, growing degree days, and cumulative drought severity).
Presenting science in an accessible format was an important objective in the research. “Current management and silvicultural activities will shape the next forest over the course of this century,” said Matthews. “Understanding these potential patterns, as well as advancing understanding of how species respond to global change pressures, will be essential in planning for forest resilience and adaptation, other aspects of biological conservation, and society as a whole.”
Although relatively small changes in drought are expected during the next few decades, changes are expected to accelerate during the latter half of the century, researchers said. Changes will likely impact plant growth and survival and lead to changes in forest composition and structure. Each map series captures the potential shifting conditions and collectively, the maps can highlight broad hotspot regions for change across the variables.
Lumber Volume and Value Recovery from Small Logs
Standard protocols at sawmills dictate shipping smaller logs to wood chipping operations for conversion into pulp, engineered wood products or wood pellets. However these uses yield lower economic returns to forest landowners. Scientists with the Northern Research Station are studying the feasibility of using lumber sawn from small diameter logs for higher end markets.
Scientists gathered data to assess the volume and value of lumber produced from small-diameter hardwood logs from three important commercial species – red oak, sugar maple, and black cherry harvested from northern and central Pennsylvania. Lumber grades for these small logs can be highly variable. In addition, for lumber to be used in high value products it needs to be dried to a moisture content that is suitable for the interior environment where the product will be used. This often means the wood must be kiln dried to a moisture content of 8 to 10 percent.
Study results showed about 25 percent of the boards recovered from small diameter logs decreased to a lower-value grade after kiln drying. The greatest decreases in grade occurred with boards sawn from the inner portion of the log while outer portions were of higher quality. Modified kiln schedules, where adjustments in temperature and relative humidity are made to reduce drying-induced defects, decreased the occurrence of warp in black cherry and red oak, but did not affect sugar maple.
“The data gleaned from this study can provide forest landowners and sawmill owners with another factor to consider when deciding on the cost-to-benefit ratio of processing small-diameter logs for use in higher end products,” said Jan Wiedenbeck, research forest products technologist and study lead author.
Timber Product Output
The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program is best known as the Nation’s tree census, but its ability to collect, analyze and share data does not stop with forests. For more than 60 years, FIA programs throughout the Forest Service have been producing timber product output reports for every state in the nation. These reports give states, the forest industry, and others a detailed picture of how much timber is produced, the tree species that are being harvested, and where trees are harvested.
With 24 states to track in the Northern Research Station, and many states in which forest products are a significant part of the economy and a leading employer, FIA foresters Dave Haugen, Ron Piva and Mitch Slater describe partners as being essential to collecting data from thousands of lumber mills. “We couldn’t do this without our partners,” Haugen said. “Partners make timber product output reporting possible.”
Originally, timber product output reports included data collected by surveying each and every mill in the state and were generated every 5 years, or more frequently when partners requested it. In 2018, the timber product output process was reconfigured to allow for timelier reporting of timber production and processing. As part of that effort, the FIA program moved from surveying every mill in a state on a periodic basis to using a statistic sample of a state’s mills every year.
With the shift to annual reports for all 24 states in the Forest Inventory and Analysis region, many state partners are taking on a greater role in data collection, Haugen said. Ohio’s State Forester recently invested in forestry college interns who, after an overview of the survey from Haugen, will be working with the state’s mills to provide data. “That is an amazing commitment to the partnership,” Haugen said.
“We value the FIA Program and our partnership with it,” said Cotton Randall, Cooperative Forest Management Administrator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry. “The decision to provide staff support for data collection was easy. Having current data on timber product output is vital to our mission of sustaining forest resources and the benefits they provide.”
As the new timber product reporting process matures, Haugen expects to be able to mine timber product output data for more timely answers to economic and forestry questions. “Research has to evolve with changing needs if it is going to stay relevant,” he said. “With help from our partners, we are building a better product.”