UW magazine extolls the virtues of cross-laminated timber

Ashley BachBLOG

Columns, the University of Washington alumni magazine, has an in-depth story in its latest issue about the power and potential of cross-laminated timber, “a next-generation forest product that promises to revolutionize forest management, economic growth, architecture and the construction industry. And that’s just for starters. Its real superpower? The ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.”

CLT could change how Washington forests are managed.

It “creates a new market for less-than-perfect boards and is a better utilization of existing resources,” (says Bernard Bormann, director of UW’s Olympic Natural Resources Center and professor of forest ecology and physiology). By opening up new supply fronts, CLT aids sustainable forestry. And because CLT manufacturers can harvest small and already-dead trees, tree-thinning becomes a profitable endeavor.

“On the east side of the Cascades and the Olympic Peninsula, we’re seeing forest fires every summer,” says Ivan Eastin, director of the UW Center for International Trade in Forest Products (CINTRAFOR) and associate dean for research in the College of the Environment. “Generally, those areas are in poorer conditions and in need of thinning. Pulling out small- and medium-sized timber would actually contribute to healthier forests.”

According to Bormann, excessively dense stands of trees block light and reduce habitat quality. Thinning benefits both wildlife and the growth of existing, hardier trees. “CLT has potential to forge new links between lands and people,” says Leda Chahim, who until recently was government affairs director for Forterra, a Northwest nonprofit focused on land preservation. “It can potentially make headway toward healthier and more resilient forests, particularly on our public lands. It’s an exciting new option.”

According to Columns, CLT could boost “rural job growth while creating an environmentally sustainable source to support the state’s economic future. By harvesting smaller and even damaged timber, CLT could renew logging interest in both new and long-overlooked forests.”

Vaagen Brothers Lumber, a fourth-generation Washington timber company, is set to embrace CLT in 2018 by expanding its operations in Colville. California-based Katerra is on track to open a plant in the Spokane Valley next year and employ upward of 150 people. Local production facilities will likely lower the retail price of CLT by eliminating the need to import. “The huge upside for the Northwest is that we’re one of the best places on the planet to grow trees,” says Rep. Steve Tharinger, chair of the Washington State House Capital Budget Committee. “CLT could be an environmentally sensitive way to use those resources.”

“We have affordable housing needs in the state, which are acute in the Puget Sound area,” Tharinger continues. “CLT can help meet some of the urban growth needs while creating jobs in the rural areas. It’s a win-win.”

CLT is also well positioned to meet the housing needs of rural communities.

Brian Hatfield, who leads the forest products sector for the state’s Department of Commerce, believes CLT can also address unique housing needs in sparsely populated regions of the state. With few home builders in their communities, residents in Klickitat and Pacific counties rely on manufactured housing. Instead, says Hatfield, “CLT could be perfect for those who want a solid, sturdy structure, but still need something that comes together quickly and doesn’t require as much construction infrastructure.”