Bill Gamble stood before the crowd Thursday in the Sandbox and touted the work to restore its health.
The Sandbox Vegetation Management Project encompassed 16,000 acres in the Blue Mountains near Union in the Upper Catherine Creek Watershed. Gamble is the U.S. Forest Service ranger for the La Grande District. He oversaw the work that resulted in a more open and natural forest while selling 16 million board feet of timber. The project wrapped up in 2015.
The crowd was a couple dozen academics, forest managers and industry insiders who were attending the Mass Timber Rising Summit in La Grande. The Sandbox, Gamble said, is an example of good, smart work to keep the forest healthy. Around 1.2 million acres of the Blue Mountains needs some kind of restoration, he said.
That includes thinning and timber sales, which the mass timber industry wants and needs.
Mass timber is about engineering load-bearing structures of wood and using those to build big, such as Framework, the 12-story high rise going up in Portland this fall. Nearly all of the building is wood in one form or another, including cross-laminated timber, or CLT, which comes in panels the size of walls. The material is catching on in urban construction, but the U.S. lags behind its use in Canada, the United Kingdom and some other parts of Europe.
Jonathan Heppner is with Lever Architecture, the firm that designed Framework. He told the crowd earlier in the day Lever spends a lot of discussion on how to build to “elevate the human experience.” But the firm did not shirk the obligation to keep people safe in a wood building.
Fire, after all, is the big threat.
Heppner said Lever had to prove load-bearing beams could withstand a two-hour fire at 2,000 degree in a furnace, the kind of test steel and concrete also have to pass.
Lever did that in the fall of 2016, becoming the first mass timber products in the world to pass the test.
Framework also uses a “self-centering design” for earthquake livability.
“This building won’t be torn down after an earthquake — it survives the earthquake,” Heppner said.
The construction advantages mass timber offers, he said, might restart the timber economy in rural Oregon.
The state already is making investments in mass timber with the Tallwood Design Institute at the University of Oregon. Judith Sheine is the director of the institute and said mass timber is pushing the creation of jobs, better forest management and even fighting global warming.
The institute works on certificate programs in mass timber construction and work force development, Sheine said. It helps local governments create wood structures, such as the Springfield Mass Timber Parking Garage.
The university planned to use steel to improve the west grandstands at Hayward Field, but the institute convinced them to go with wood. And Lane County is considering a mass timber courthouse, she said, with all the source material available within a 250-mile radius.
Oregon’s U.S. senators also are pushing the development of mass timber.
Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, submitted a bipartisan letter on May 23 urging the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to include the Timber Innovation Act in the next Farm Bill.
The act would help the mass timber industry on multiple fronts, from a new research and development program for using mass timber products in construction to grants to incentivise new wood technology for construction. The act also would extend the Tall Wood Building Prize Competition for the next five years. Framework is a previous winner.
The senators are also touting the expansion of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program in the Senate’s proposed Farm Bill, doubling funding from $40 million to $80 million per year and extending it through 2023. The Malheur National Forest and the Blue Mountains Forest Partners collaborative have been securing $4 million per year for restoration work through the program.