The informational rollout of the approval of Norway Spruce for use in construction, which took place in late 2016, was recently recognized by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) – Atlanta Chapter with an Award of Merit. Kim Drew, NELMA’s PR Agent, spearheaded the overall activity at each stage, and accepted the award at a recent ceremony held in Atlanta, Georgia
Encapsulating a wide range of audiences – national, regional, local, and industry – the communications program included an announcement press conference, tailored news releases, and a social media component. Coverage received was exceptional: every major outlet in the state of Maine reported on the addition of Norway Spruce to the SPFs grading category, as did the vast majority of national industry trade publications.
“Sharing the incredible Norway Spruce story was an absolute once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Jeff Easterling. “The multilayered positive impact to NELMA members will be felt for decades to come; we were very honored to have our hard work recognized by a national organization!”
After 4 years of discussing, researching, locating, verifying, planning, sampling, testing, and analyzing, Norway Spruce becomes the 10th softwood species to be included within the Spruce-Pine-Fir south (SPFs) grouping of species for design values. The official notification was received by NELMA from the American Lumber Standard Committee’s (ALSC) Board of Review on October 20, 2016.
This approval capped 4 months of destructively testing more than 1,300 pieces of 2×4, 2×6, and 2×8 lumber by the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composite Center in Orono, followed by 8 more months of deliberations and intensive review by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. Their final assessment came to the same conclusion: Norway Spruce may join the other species within the SPFs grouping and adopt the same strength values important for use by engineers, architects, and builders in construction applications.
Norway Spruce becomes the first major, U.S. grown new wood species to be fully tested since strength values were first conducted in the 1920s. Norway Spruce is a native, well-established softwood species in Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe where it is a significantly important commercial wood source in countries such as Germany, the Baltic States, and yes, even Norway. The species uniqueness starts with its dramatic appearance unlike any other spruce. The tree’s drooping branchlets are an identification trademark and gives rise to Norway Spruce as a favorite Christmas tree species, as noted by its annual selection as the “Tree” that adorns Rockefeller Center in NYC for the holiday season.
NELMA’s historical research found that its introduction to America began in 1860 when European immigrants brought Norway Spruce stock with them and first planted the species in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. A Harvard Forest Research report in 1936 documented an additional 58 Norway Spruce plantations throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, and New York, as its popularity, notable high-survival rates and relative fast growth compared to native softwood species became known within the region.
Based on this early success, Norway Spruce seedlings became a critical component of President Roosevelt’s back-to-work program in the 1930s that replanted thousands of acres of abandoned agricultural lands in the Northeast created by the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were tasked with this reforestation project whose purpose was to stabilize barren soils and reduce erosion. More than 113 million Norway Spruce seedlings were distributed by state nurseries for replanting projects in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, just through 1932, prior to the kick-off of CCC. Millions more were made available to the Corp for hundreds of projects that followed for the next 10 years in the region.
The result of this hard work may be found today in large volumes of rich stands of Norway Spruce in the Northeast, a new found legacy left by the CCC. Their work will have an important economic impact on today’s lumber industry as the species begins enjoying its increased value from previous markets of pulpwood, paper chips, and 1” board material. More than 2 billion board feet of standing sawtimber is listed in current data collected by the U.S. Forest Service in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeastern regions. With the high sampling error with the data, inherent for “minor” species in the survey itself, there is likely 2 to 3 times that amount in reality.
What does this means to NELMA lumber manufacturing members? Norway Spruce grown in the U.S. may immediately be procured by a mill to incorporate within their current Spruce-Pine-Fir species mix.
The approval of the species marks the end of a lengthy but necessary process of bringing a new species to the marketplace, taking more than 1000 Association staff man-hours in the final 2 years alone.
Norway Spruce lumber that is! Beginning October 20, the final phase of NELMA’s project to test Norway Spruce to obtain strength values got underway. To summarize from the beginning, about 3 years ago NELMA’s dimension lumber manufacturing membership first discussed the aspect of Norway Spruce and the increasing sense that the species could be an added timber resource for the industry. Norway Spruce is not native to the U.S., but as the name suggests, a very common European species of commercial timber. However, no strength testing had ever been conducted on lumber from logs grown in the U.S, so the species remains off-limits for use as construction lumber by the softwood manufacturers.
The initial research drawn from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) estimated around 2.1 billion board feet of standing sawtimber volume scattered within 13 states, all located in the Northeastern and Great Lakes region. The state of New York contains a little over 50% of this estimated volume, with the vast majority of all states’ volume the result of plantings by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) during the 1930’s Great Depression. Reclaiming abandoned agriculture farmland back to forestland was the goal of this CCC program at the time. Those stands range from 5 acres to more than 100 acres and have reached maturity after 70-80 years of growth. Commercial planting of the species continued in the decades following the CCC days largely for pulp fiber; a decision based on its robust growth characteristics in the short northern climate. Planting the species continues today in various areas of the northeast.
Why Norway Spruce and not our native Eastern Spruces by the CCC? Several thoughts exist on that question ranging from the shortage of available nursery stock seedlings at the time due to the demand of CCC re-planting (more than 3 billion seedlings of various species were planted across the country by the CCC), to a suggestion that a plot of acreage had been planted in the northeast in the 1900-1910s by immigrant settlers from Europe that showed the potential increased growth patterns of the species by the 1930s. NELMA is conducting further research regarding this question as part of the Association’s full documentation and anticipated video of the overall project from start to finish.
More than 475 man-hours (60 man-days) of NELMA staff time has been spent so far since the official sampling and testing plan was approved by ALSC and the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory last March. This time includes traveling to previously-identified plantation sites and marking each log with a unique origin color for separation at the participating sawmills, marking each test board with the same origin color when sawn, dried, and planed at the mill, along with intricate grading and coding of each random sample piece for identification by log origin when tested. The final test samples will number around 1,200, divided into 3 widths (2×4, 2×6, and 2×8), and 2 grades (Select Structural and No. 2) as prescribed by the official testing standard, ASTM D1990. The lumber samples will come from the states of Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, and Maine for geographical coverage of the growing region.
Back to last week, the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono is the site for conducting the lumber tests to include bending, tension, shear, and compression. Dr. Stephen Shaler, Director of the School of Forest Resources, and Russell Edgar, Sr. Lab. Operations, have embraced the project’s significance to the lumber industry and are leading the project to its analytic conclusion, targeted for January 31, 2016. NELMA’s industry members were invited to “watch” a bit of the testing procedures on October 22, with 10 participants attending to see how much force it takes to completely break or pull apart lumber. Check out the video below to see how much a Norway Spruce board will deflect on its edge before it breaks……wait for the snap!
“Getting to this point has been a complex and arduous task for NELMA as a small inspection agency tackling the first testing project that has been conducted on a “new” U.S. species in more than 75 years, but the end result should be well worth the effort on behalf of our members”, according to Jeff Easterling, NELMA President. “We need to thank numerous state agencies and member mills that have been instrumental in making this project possible. This includes the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Empire State Forest Products Association, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, the Maine Forest Service, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation. Significant participation by our members includes Milan Lumber, Pleasant River Lumber, and Irving Forest Products. Participating mills in the Great Lakes region of NSLB include Biewer Lumber and Pukall Lumber.
Look for additional updates to follow as the project moves towards completion.