Time To Grow, Cut and Use More Wood

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Photo: Sitka Log Homes

John Laumer wrote an important post about Canadian forest policy promoting the logging of pine beetle infested forests. He thought it was misguided; I am not so sure, and have promoted the use of wood in buildings as a great way of sequestering CO2, of actually building a carbon-positive architecture. Over in the UK, Chris Goodall writes in the Guardian that growing (and using) wood could create a lot of jobs and reduce fossil fuel use. He even wants to burn it as fuel on a large scale.


log home built from pine beetle lumber. Image credit sitka log homes
In other northern countries, wood fuel provides a substantial fraction of total heat needs through district heating systems that burn the wood in central plants and then distribute hot water to local homes. This replaces the need to use gas or oil. Increasingly, these wood-fuelled heating plants are also generating electricity as well using turbines. The UK could aim to install thousands of small-scale wood-burning (or, more likely, wood gasification) plants dotted around forested areas.

There's little competition from other users for wood in many areas of the country. Even in woodlands close to major cities, prime wood is increasingly left unused. Beautiful wooded areas won't stay that way if we don't manage them properly. Creating a market for wood by encouraging the growth of small-scale local electricity generators is an excellent way of incentivising proper care of our woodlands.

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the Speed skating oval for the Vancouver winter olympics is being built out of a million board-feet of pine beetle lumber. Photo: Gamebid forum

He also suggests putting people to work planting trees for fuel:

How much difference could a major reforestation plan make? Moving the UK from 11 to 12% forest cover would add 250,000 hectares of woodland. Fast-growing species might produce a yearly yield of up to 10 tonnes per hectare, with enough energy to replace over 5% of our electricity need for ever, as well as huge amounts of useful heat. The reduction in UK emissions is potentially worth tens of millions of tonnes a year. But is it a feasible target to increase woodlands by 250,000 hectares? Think of it this way: China has reforested 4 million hectares every year for the last two decades. So of course it is possible and, moreover, much of the employment would be in areas of low incomes and poor job prospects. Planting and nurturing young trees is a skilled job, and these skills have atrophied in the UK in recent years. But given the right incentives, traditional farmers could hire and train the people needed to plant large areas of fast-growing coppices.

In Canada and the United States, we are not talking about cute little woodlands like they do in the UK, where only 11% of the country is forested; in North America there is a lot more wood, and much of it is dying right now. In other parts of the country where there isn't a pine beetle problem, sustainable harvesting to FSC standards can generate a lot of usable wood, but they also take out a lot of the dying and infested stuff that isn't good for much other than burning.

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Roof of oval under construction

Perhaps we do need a massive cull of the pine-beetle infested trees, where the wood gets cut up for heavy timber construction and the branches and small stuff gets turned into pellets or fire-logs or some form of clean, usable fuel.

Good Examples of Building with Wood:

School Built From Wood By Sheppard Robson
Wood Construction Scales Up
FMO Tapiola: Prefab Wood Office Building in Finland
Waugh Thistleton's Timber Tower