The College of Forestry sharpens the way it tackles tough problems

As the Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the OSU College of Forestry, Thomas Maness has one of the longest titles on campus and an agenda to match.

While other universities have broken up their forestry programs, Maness maintains —and university leaders agree — that it’s time for OSU’s forest scientists to reinvent the college.

The dean’s energetic vision includes plans for $60 million in improved facilities, but the centerpiece is his insistence — and his faculty’s growing resolve — that the college work collaboratively with industry leaders, ecosystem advocates and others to find solutions.

This has to happen, he said. Failure is an ugly option.

“Aldo Leopold said the oldest task in human history is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it,” Maness said, evoking the wisdom of one of the nation’s seminal conservationists.

“It’s really hard to say, ‘I’m against healthy people,’ or ‘I’m against healthy communities,’” he said. “That’s a pretty hard line to take, but we had some people who took it. And that’s not the profession of forestry. The profession of forestry was created because of that.

“So the first thing you do is you break up the camps. You start saying the College of Forestry is about producing products. It’s about healthy communities. It’s about healthy businesses. It’s about resilient ecosystems. It’s about all of these things.

“What we’re about is, ‘How do we pull those things together?’”

Maness fully expects his college — consistently ranked as one of the best in the world — to work with forward-thinking industry leaders and government land managers and lead the way to smarter, more sustainable forestry and forest products, as well as healthier rural economies in Oregon and beyond. Meanwhile, with help from OSU engineers and the architecture faculty at the University of Oregon, the college will become the U.S. pioneer in constructing stronger, taller, more beautiful and environmentally sensible buildings made of wood.

A forest economist, Maness specializes in innovative approaches to balance traditional production with ecosystem protection. He says the college can — and must — be as successful at developing, testing and teaching new approaches as it was in the 20th century at helping Oregon’s timber industry master the science of efficiently converting standing timber into dollars.

“We were the best at that,” he said. “For this part of the world, this college invented how to grow Douglas fir in an optimum way, how to extract it and how to process it. That was the whole mandate of the forestry research laboratory when it started back in the ’40s.”

The new heart of OSU’s effort to be best in the nation at providing forest industry solutions is a plan — announced in January — to build a $60 million Oregon Forest Science Complex by renovating, razing and replacing parts of the college’s buildings on the western side of campus.

The complex will be home not only to the College of Forestry and its programs, but also to the National Center of Excellence for Advanced Wood Products Manufacturing and Design, a new collaboration between the College of Forestry, OSU’s College of Engineering and the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

State bonds will provide half of the money for the complex and the rest must be raised from donors. Following the success of The Campaign for OSU, the OSU Foundation is targeting special initiatives, like this project, that advance the university’s strategic plan for creating transformative student learning experiences while building on OSU’s areas of greatest strength and potential impact.

The forestry initiative illustrates the university’s commitment to expand upon its areas of excellence to accomplish the greatest good for Oregon and the world, OSU President Ed Ray said.

“Sometimes people think that forestry was important for Oregon’s past but don’t realize that it remains critical to our economy today, and may become even more important in the future,” he said. “We are very proud of OSU’s contributions to the sector and are eager to build on this rich heritage, carrying out our mission as a 21st century land grant university.”

While the center will have a broader focus over time, its initial focus will be to get Oregon and the nation up to speed in an international movement to revolutionize the way wood is used in tall commercial and residential structures.

“We’re excited about leading a new national effort to advance the science and technology necessary to primarily use wood in the construction of five- to 20-story buildings,” Maness said.

Seeking new methods to reduce the carbon footprint of high-rise construction and meet consumer demand for more sustainably built structures, architects and engineers from Austria, Canada, Norway, New Zealand and elsewhere are constructing buildings with cross-laminated timber panels. Made of lumber glued together across the grain, the panels can be more than one foot thick, 10 feet wide and 80 feet long.

CLT panels with equivalent strength are much lighter and easier to use than are steel and concrete building parts, and they can be produced with less lasting environmental impact. But the U.S. is still developing standards for such products and no U.S. plant makes panels certified for building.

Maness said it defies logic to design a building with CLT panels partly because of their sustainability benefits, but then buy them on the other side of the world and ship them to Oregon, especially when some of them include Oregon lumber that’s already traveled across an ocean.

“We’re starting to have people say, ‘So why aren’t we providing for ourselves?’” he said. “‘Why are our rural economies in such dismal shape here, and we’re buying our wood products from somewhere else in the world?’”

The Oregon Forest Science Complex will create a practical and beautiful example of what can be done with CLT panels in the renovation of Peavy Hall. And those panels will be manufactured not across an ocean but about 140 miles south of Corvallis, in the first production facility for certified CLT structural pieces in the U.S., at D.R. Johnson Lumber in Riddle, population 1,200.

Valerie Johnson, president of the company and daughter of its namesake founder, responded in 2014 when she heard Maness and Lech Muszyński, associate professor of wood science and engineering, present their ideas at an industry gathering and appeal for a commercial partner to help get Oregon started in the CLT business.

Her late father founded the company with a small sawmill in 1951, she said, and later had the foresight to launch Riddle Laminators, which makes “glu-lam” beams and arches made of lumber glued together. A CLT operation sounded like a logical next step for the company.

However, not only would D.R. Johnson have to make the investment to get a new production line up and running, it would have to get the products certified for the first time ever by the American Plywood Association, using new standards designed to meet building codes, many of which would have to be rewritten to accommodate CLT technology.

“Dad always loved a challenge that looked like it could turn into a solid venture,” Johnson said.

OSU offered technical help and Oregon BEST, a state economic development agency, promised $150,000 in seed money. The company’s first certified CLT panels should be delivered this summer to a customer who has already placed an order.

“The interest is amazingly strong,” Johnson said.

Johnson has a lot of Beavers in her family, including OSU-trained foresters, but her appreciation of the university and what it can do for her industry has soared to new heights.

“Dr. Ray and Dean Maness and Lech have been just amazing with their injection of energy into this,” she said. “I can’t tell the world loudly enough and strongly enough how impressive the College of Forestry at Oregon State is. And by the way, it is the college of forestry. It’s growing and filling a lot of needs for research and for jobs that are developing out here in the world.”

Maness said the college’s link with D. R. Johnson and the demonstration of CLT construction in the new forestry complex should speed development and deployment of the product in Oregon and across the nation.

“There is a lot of interest in engineered wood construction because these spaces are beautiful, very inviting and healthy places to live and work,” Maness said. “We want to show what you can do, and create a place that will be inspiring to our students as well as industry representatives.”

Oregon’s dominant timber tree, the iconic “Doug fir,” produces wood ideally suited for CLT panels. Maness noted that the people who build with CLT panels and work and live in buildings made from them tend to be discerning customers who demand that the products be produced as locally as possible, with minimal environmental damage.

“If you think about how we’ve become more interested in local production of high-quality food, that’s something that really resonates with people,” he said. “People are willing to pay a higher price for high-quality food that’s locally produced. We’re starting to see the same thing now with building materials. They want to know where their building materials come from in the same way they want to know where their food comes from.”

Johnson said potential customers are already asking questions like, “How far away from the production site will you be harvesting your timber?” Companies that make the panels will be expected in many cases to document that they were produced with wood harvested, hauled and milled to the highest environmental standards.

Maness said the plan is to have OSU-based programs train students in a wide variety of new jobs created in the industry, while also preparing on-the-ground foresters to meet increasingly stringent demands for wood produced in an environmentally sound way so it can be certified for use in the CLT panels and other new products.

That means growth for the college and more employment for its graduates and others in forestry and the wood products industry.

“The most important factor in terms of Oregon’s rural economy is the number of jobs per thousand board feet cut,” he said, “not just the thousands of board feet. It’s important that we employ more people with every tree that we cut.

“The highest value of our wood products is for engineered building materials,” Maness said. “If you look at the impacts if we buy our building materials from another place, like Chile or Uruguay or Brazil — you look at the environmental impact that occurs in those places, plus all the shipping, and the energy used — that’s a message that’s really starting to be heard.”

Learn more about the project and ways to offer philanthropic support at osufoundation.org/fundraisingpriorities/forestry/.