Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Forest Products Lab

Monday, January 06, 2020

 

Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Forest Products Lab

 

Who doesn’t like to break things? The engineers at the USDA Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison certainly do. The Forest Products Lab is a federal institution that does all kinds of research on wood products: building materials, nanotechnology, advanced identification methods, and innovative structures. In the lab, building materials are put under extreme stress-- and not the kind that makes our director Kate Raisz’s hair go gray!

 

Chuck and the crew met Dwight McDonald, who is an engineering technician at the lab. Chuck helped Dwight set up two different stress tests: a bending test and tension test. We waited with baited breath and cameras on slow-mo, as the massive hydraulic machine pulled harder and harder on the two ends of the wood. Finally, with a loud bang, the wood ripped apart!

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

 

Engineers at the Forest Products Lab need to know how much physical stress their materials can take, so they can make recommendations to the public about what kinds of wood products to use. Mass timber products, like CLT (cross-laminated timber) and glulam (glued-laminated timber) is becoming more and more mainstream in commercial and residential construction efforts, and contractors and consumers need to know that these new materials can withstand hurricanes, earthquakes, and even fire.

 

 

 

We couldn’t get enough of this cool wood tech. The crew went back to the Forest Products Lab to explore other departments. First up, the Center for Wood Anatomy Research (CWAR). We walked into a literal library of wood-- over 103,000 samples! Curious artifacts were sitting on every surface, carefully labeled and categorized. Aisles of small drawers full of more wood samples made us feel like we were in a sacred archive.

 

 

Alex Weidenhoeft of the CWAR has dedicated his career (since being an intern at age 18!) to the study and identification of different tree species. He and his associates have developed a portable microscopic camera and accompanying software to identify wood. The “Xylotron” is a hand-held device that takes a super close-up photo of the wood grain. Based on certain patterns of fibers and air pockets, the software can identify over 150 types of neotropical wood more accurately than a trained professional. Eventually, Alex hopes that border agents will use this technology to identify wood that has been illegally logged.

 

From the small, cozy wood anatomy lab, we went to the massive, industrial Nanotechnology Pilot Plant, where scientists explore wood properties at an anatomic level. Nanotechnology is the study of materials at the “nanoscale”-- 80,000 times thinner than a human hair! Researcher Rick Reiner showed us the process for making nanocellulose: using acid to break down paper into a solution of nanocellulose particles.

 

When you break wood down to the molecular level, it can be used as a sustainable alternative to a lot of plastics and metals. Rick told us that the FPL is experimenting with creating packaging out of nanocellulose, to combat our plastic use. Nanocellulose can even be mixed with concrete to make more sustainable and stronger building materials.

 

The Forest Products Lab is a like a playground for wood experts, and we were excited to hear about all their innovative research-- right in the heart of Madison, Wisconsin!

 

Sources/further reading:

https://www.fs.fed.us/inside-fs/delivering-mission/apply/stopping-illegal-wood-imports-us-ports

https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/research/highlights/highlight.php?high_id=585

https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf2011/fpl_2011_hermanson001.pdf

https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/research/research_emphasis_areas/introduction.php?rea_id=4

 

Special thanks to Rebecca Wallace and Brian Brashaw for coordinating our days at the FPL!

 

 


​ Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Ruffed Grouse and Lumberjill

Monday, December 23, 2019

 

Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Ruffed Grouse and Lumberjill

 

“The autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a Ruffed Grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.” -- Aldo Leopold

 

Thump, thump, thump… that’s the territorial sound of the male ruffed grouse beating his wings on his “drumming log” in northern Wisconsin.

 

The male birds make this sound by beating their wings quickly and forcefully to create a small vacuum. The bird beats his wings faster and faster - and end up sounding something like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

 

EMBED: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVfiIp3QGs4

 

Ruffed Grouse are widely distributed across the country, and have been observed in 38 states and all Canadian Provinces. They are a popular game bird for hunting enthusiasts, and primarily live in wooded habitats.

 

Chuck and the crew met up with Jon Steigerwaldt, 3rd generation tree farmer/forester and Regional Biologist of the Ruffed Grouse Society, a nation-wide non-profit organization that promotes education and conservation of this curious bird. Jon knows that ruffed grouse actually prefer a forest that is diverse, young and frequently harvested. As a private landowner, he and his family have made a priority of managing their land to create habitats for the ruffed grouse and a wide range of other forest wildlife species.

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

 

Jon’s property, thick with aspens, is home to a host of ruffed grouse, who will do most of their noisy drumming this spring. We filmed Chuck and Jon in his truck, chatting about Jon’s family history of tree farming, as the truck trundled through narrow paths deep in the Steigerwaldt property. Walking deeper into the woods, Chuck and Jon talked about aspens...We heard the rustle of the quaking and big-toothed aspens, which Chuck (and our sound recordist) loved.

 

We also met Kate Witkowsi, an actual “lumberjill” and Stihl Timbersports Champion! Kate taught Chuck how to axe-throw, a competition where the lumberjack or jill throws a double-bitted axe at a target from about 20 feet away. The trick is to use the right amount of force to line up the rotations of the axe just right, to hit the target dead-on. After missing the target once, and severing a ratchet strap, Chuck nailed it on his 3rd try! No cameras were hurt in the making of this scene.

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

 

Then Chuck, Jon, Kate, and our crew ventured off the path to fell a spruce tree that Jon has decided will make a great “drumming log” for the ruffed grouse on his land and further enhance the quality of wildlife habitat.

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

Sources and further reading:

https://ruffedgrousesociety.org/grouse-facts/

https://www.audubon.org/news/see-and-hear-ruffed-grouses-haunting-air-drumming

 

 


Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Menominee Tribal Enterprises

Monday, December 16, 2019

Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Menominee Tribal Enterprises

 

“...a forest is much more than cords and boards. It's a whole ecological process. Clean air, clean water, good soils, a place to gather.” -- Marshall Pecore

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

 

The Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin has an incredible history of forest stewardship, and Chuck and the crew traveled to the Menominee Tribal Enterprises to see this decades-old business in action. Marshall Pecore, a descendant of the Menominee Tribe, is the forest manager of the operation in Neopit, Wisconsin. Our crew interviewed him about the rich history of their long-term, sustainable approach to timber, and how they harvest trees on their own tribal reservation.

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

 

Although the Menominee tribe has lived in northern Wisconsin for thousands of years, as a result of a wave of restrictive treaties with U.S. government, their land was reduced from more than 10 million acres to 235,523 acres.

 

The sawmill, constructed in 1908, is a primary source of jobs for tribal members. With generations of experience, the tribe knows that their profit depends on a sustainable forest. Unlike other mill owners, they cut the diseased trees first, as well as any tree that won’t grow to be a thick, straight trunk suitable for milling boards.

 

The Menominee method takes into account not only the health of the tree, but the health of the surrounding organisms. Marshall explained how they survey the “assemblages”-- the plants on the forest floor-- to determine what species of tree would best thrive there. They also avoid felling “wildlife trees:” trees where animals like birds, snakes, porcupines, or raccoons have made their homes.

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

Later in our trip, we met Wade Fernandez, or Wiciwen Apis-Mahwaew (his Menominee name), at Audio for the Arts, a recording studio in Madison. Wade plays traditional Menominee music on flute and guitar. He and Chuck played “Wild Horses” (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones), Chuck was on piano (of course), and Wade accompanied him on native flute. Wade then treated us to our own private concert and played some of his original music solo. He regularly travels around the country and around Europe to tour his music. Take a listen: (link to music videos)

 

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

Sources and additional information:

https://www.mtewood.com/Sawmill/History

https://www.mpm.edu/content/wirp/ICW-153

https://wadefernandezmusic.com/

 


America's Forests with Chuck Leavell is Going to South Carolina to see What the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Program is all About

Monday, October 15, 2018

SOUTH CAROLINA - Chuck Leavell is on the road again. Stay tuned for a special episode of America’s Forests with Chuck Leavell and follow his journey into the south. The new episode aims to shine light on a deep-rooted program that helps African American landowners better understand options for forested land they inherited or own.

The Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention (SFLR) program is a partnership of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and USDA Forest Service (USFS). The program promotes intergenerational land retention and family asset creation for African American landowners across the southeast.

“The success of the Sustainable Forestry and Land Retention Project demonstrates the power of government, philanthropy, and community collaboration to advance opportunity. We at the Endowment are proud to support a program that leverages public and private investment designed to empower African American families and communities to retain rural family land ownership, enhance forest health, and build intergenerational wealth,” said Endowment President and CEO Carlton Owen.

The SFLR program was launched in 2013 as an effort to aid African American landowners in turning their forested properties into economic assets. The program capitalizes on innovative partnerships between local, state, and federal organizations to assist landowners in this process. SFLR provides a variety of support to these landowners, including access to legal assistance and opportunities for sustainable forestry. To date, the program supports 8 project sites across 7 states and more than 955 landowners. The participants own a combined 71,000 acres, ensuring land assets remain held by historical landowners.

SFLR has continued to strengthen networks that support, connect, and empower landowners. These networks are catalysts through which African American landowner leaders are emerging and organizing—both locally and regionally. Ultimately, it is the empowered leadership of these landowners and those they influence that will define the program's legacy.

The series is produced by Choose Outdoors and 42 Degrees North Media and the South Carolina episode is made possible with support from the USDA Forest Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Endowment.

We hope you are as excited about the premiere of our next episode in South Carolina and the SFLR program, as are we. The inspiring and life changing stories you hear won’t be found anywhere else. Check it out on your local PBS station. Call in to request it!

For more information on the series, to host a showing of an episode or to get involved in future episodes, visit americasforestswithchuckleavell.com, follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or email us.

Award Winning Program in the South to be Filmed by America’s Forests

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

America’s Forests with Chuck Leavell noticed a program that needed to be documented called the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention program (SFLR). As the Forbes article that came out on July 26, 2018 saidthe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD) and the Council on Foundations announced the 2018 winners of the sixth annual Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships, recognizing excellence among the two sectors which improves quality of life for low- and moderate-income residents across the country.”

“It’s this collaborative approach to service that will lead us to find solutions to help the most vulnerable,” HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson said when presenting awards to the ten recipients in Washington, D.C. The goal of the SFLR is to help promote intergenerational forestland retention and wealth creation for African-American landowners. In many cases, the programs work is helping black farmers to climb back from a negative tide that has been going on for decades. By comparison, African-American farmland peaked in 1910 at 15 million acres to just 2.4 million acres in 1997. By 1999, only 1% of all privately-owned rural lands were black-owned.” Ryan Velez wrote for the Your Black World article about SFLR.

The SFLR program currently supports eight project sites across seven states and more than 800 landowners, who own a combined 68,423 acres. The goal is to help connect landowners to specialized networks of forestry and legal services providers. These networks are coordinated by trusted community-based organizations (CBOs), which combine different resources and connections including non-profits, universities, and the private sector. The eight CBOs are as follows:

Black Family Land Trust (VA)

Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation (SC)

Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (AL)

Limited Resources Landowner Education Assistance Network (AL)

McIntosh Sustainable Environment and Economic Development (GA)

Roanoke Electric Cooperative (NC)

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (AR)

Winston County Self Help Cooperative (MS)

“Working forests benefit us all. Many public benefits flow from private lands. They are essential in providing clean air and water, habitat for fish and wildlife, forest products and recreational opportunities.”- USDA U.S. Forest Service (USFS)

For more information on the series, to host a showing of an episode or to get involved in future episodes, visit americasforestswithchuckleavell.com, follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or email us.

Oregon and Colorado Episodes to Air on Rocky Mountain PBS

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Rocky Mountain PBS announced that it will air repeat showings of both episodes in the America's Forest with Chuck Leavell series. Tune in the following dates and times: 

  • May 3 from 7:00-7:30 p.m. - Oregon 
  • May 5 from 10:30-11:00 p.m. - Colorado
  • May 6 from 5:00-5:30 p.m. - Colorado
  • May 7 from 10:30-11pm - Oregon 

Both episodes also are available online for streaming. View them online here: Oregon and Colorado.

 

 

America’s Forests with Chuck Leavell to Air June 15 on Georgia Public Broadcasting

Friday, June 09, 2017

The first episode in the entertaining and educational television series celebrating our national forests and featuring Georgia-native Chuck Leavell will air on Georgia Public Television on Thursday, June 15 at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Chuck Leavell is a forestry advocate and conservationist who also happens to be the keyboardist and musical director for the Rolling Stones. As host, Chuck serves as the on-camera guide, travelling across the country to interview people who are passionate about the gifts we get from our woods and exploring creative solutions to complex problems impacting this important natural resource.

“The search for solutions to the problems of sustainable growth, climate change, and energy conservation is increasingly inspiring thought leaders to look at one of America’s finest resources - our forests”, said America’s Forests host, Chuck Leavell. “Whether for building or for recreation, it is clear that our forests are good for the economy and for the spirit.”

The pilot episode airing on GPB on June 15 features the state of Oregon, including the trend toward building skyscrapers with cross laminated timber in Portland, fire mitigation with the help of mountain bikers in Bend, and habitat restoration in the Siuslaw National Forest.

“Public and private partners across the country are working hand in hand to both care for and to create sustainable solutions using wood from our forests” said Bruce Ward, president of Choose Outdoors. “We are proud to help tell these stories to educate and inspire citizens to become every day champions.”

The next episode will shine the spotlight on Colorado and filming will begin summer of 2017. The series is produced by Choose Outdoors and 42 Degrees North Media and is made possible with support from the U.S. Forest Service, Neiman Enterprises and Vaagen Brothers, along with the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

For more information, visit www.americasforestswithchuckleavell.com, follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or contact Executive Producer and President of Choose Outdoors, Bruce Ward at bruceward1@gmail.com or 303- 917-1476.