The state legislature earlier this year called on the Washington State Building Code Council (WSBCC) to adopt rules for cross-laminated timber (CLT) use when building residential and commercial buildings. The move represents ongoing efforts to bring CLT into mainstream use for residential and commercial construction, which would create commercial value for the small-diameter trees that are contributing to poor forestland health in Washington state.

For state and federal officials, as well as private stakeholders, that change could hasten restoration work by making tree thinning a profitable endeavor rather than a costly project requiring government funding.

The potential CLT offers was articulated by U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Vicki Christiansen at the 2018 Pacific NorthWest Economic Region Summit in Spokane on July 24. “We can use new opportunities for forest product delivery to help us to improve forest conditions, while also creating jobs and sustaining rural communities. We can implement these new practices by working together and being a good neighbor.”

Forest Service Region 6 covers Washington and Oregon and includes 28 percent of all forestland across Washington. In recent years the federal agency has struggled to conduct forest health work due to “fire borrowing” in which those portions of its budget are used to pay for the high cost of firefighting. During last year’s wildfire season USFS spent $2 billion on wildfire fighting, more than half its budget. There were 50 large fires on USFS land and over 411,000 acres burned, costing the agency $130 million. Over 90 percent of those fires were human-caused. In April, federal legislation sought to end the practice of fire-borrowing by allocating additional long-term funding to USFS to the tune of $2 billion starting in 2020.

A 2014 analysis by The Nature Conservancy and USFS concluded that half a million acres of forestland managed by the federal agency in Eastern Washington were in need of thinning and prescribed burns. Along with the new funding, Christiansen said that they can also “align our best practice policies and guidance with the changing markets that are certainly emerging in the Pacific Northwest.”

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