SW Community Forestry Caucus

USDA Forest Products Laboratory


Since the early days of the partnership, a number of FCSFP, partners have sought resources at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin for getting ideas and for developing products. Probably the first instance of this was when Tim Reader and members of the Madera Wood Products Cooperative in Vallecitos, New Mexico discovered files in the Lab’s voluminous database describing products that potentially could be applicable in their project. Tim Reader, who was contracted through the Colorado State Forest Service to provide regional technical assistance to recipients of funding through the Demonstration Grants Program, found a paper describing a long-forgotten, simple dip-diffusion process for treating timber. He thought it might work for post and poles made from small-diameter. It might add value to small diameter that would be affordable and could be achieved locally and hands-on.

The dip diffusion wood treatment effort, which eventually saw little advancement due to EPA rules, was an outshoot of Reader simply searching product development stories from the past on the Forest Products Lab database. “There are hundreds of other product stories archived in the files, but no one is searching them to find any that might fit today’s needs,” Reader said.

“Chipcrete” currently being developed by Gordon West at Gila WoodNet and Santa Clara Woodworks with assistance from the Forest Products Lab.

Load-bearing strength testing of construction quality timber has been a common interface between Lab researchers and Demonstration Grant Program recipients. The process seems to be slow and results have not been conclusive, but an atmosphere of entrepreneurship is strong and those involved continue to test new ideas and products.

Another potential improvement is the use of log sort yards as a method for better managing smaller logs. From a presentation by Susan LeVan-Green and Rusty Dramm of the Forest Products Lab, it is shown that log sort yards can be instrumental in accomplishing the following objectives:

  • Concentrate merchandise, and sort logs for higher value
  • Market multiple log products
  • May include some log products and value-added operations
  • Supply a more desirable log mix to wood using firms

In addition to explaining the fundamental concepts of log-sort yards, Forest Lab Staff have the capability of assisting in the practical and efficient lay-out of a yard to reduce costs of operations for scaling and grading.

A test batch of logs in a dip-diffusion trough soaking in a chemical bath of boric acid in Vallecitos, New Mexico. The idea came from browsing the Forest Products Lab database during the Four Corners Sustainable Forests Partnership first year.

While the USFS Forest Products is an outstanding source oftechnical and economic information, new product ideas, and assistance with operational transformation to utilize small diameter materials, there is always the challenge of accessing these resources by a small business or partnership in a distant part of the country. This has been overcome to a degree by coordinating and communicating through a larger regional partnership, the FCSFP, in order to host technical assistance events, such as the workshop on sawmill conversions being conducted in late 2004 by Tim Reader and Rusty Dramm.

Another challenge has been the retiring of lab employees with experience and institutional memory. If there were morefinancial resources available for technical assistance, then people like Tim Reader at the Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Center, or Gordon West at Gila WoodNet in Silver City, New Mexico, could contract with retirees from the Lab to continue working with the efforts. One such retiree, George Harpole, relocated to the Westslope of Colorado and has been providing assistance to FCSFP partners. A concerted effort to share new harvesting methodologies, obtaining a variety of products from smaller diameter logs in an integrated manner, and applying new technologies to product development would be of significant assistance to community forestry in the Four Corners region. Within this regional framework, the USFS Products Lab could maximize its technical assistance role by linking with stewardship projects, groups of small wood products businesses, state forestry organizations, and other entrepreneurial assistance entities, such as the Department of Energy’s Industries of the Future (IOF) initiatives. All four of the states involved in the FCSFP, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah have IOF programs, most often located in the governor’s energy program of each state. (See national website: http://www.oit.doe.gov/industries.shtml.)

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