The Northern Softwood Lumber Bureau


From 1990 to 2016, The Northern Softwood Lumber Bureau (NSLB) has been the softwood lumber rules writing organization for the commercial timber species of the Lakes States, and the regions representative to the American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC).

As with many timber based organizations, the history of timber production and commerce in the Lakes States dates back centuries to theNSLB logo1 1860’s when softwood forests sourced lumber to build the major cities of the north central United States.  The most relevant organization dates back to 1906 when the Mississippi Valley Lumbermen’s Association and the Wisconsin Valley Lumberman’s Association merged to create the Northern Pine Manufacturers Association.   These aforementioned organizations date back to 1891 and 1892.

In 1931, during the great depression the Northern Pine Manufacturers Association dissolved, and then reorganized under the Lumber Code Authority of the National Recovery Administration.  When the later agency was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court, the Northern Pine Manufacturers reorganized as a trade organization in 1935.  The organization was small consisted of 5 members including Rajala Lumber and sawmill, Red Lake Indian Sawmills, Keewatin Sawmill Company, The Pas Lumber Company, and J.A. Mathieu, LTD.

The Northern Pine Association was heavily involved in lumber industry/government relations including the Lumber Code Authority of the National Recovery Act (1933-35), The Federal Housing Administration Lumber Standards (1938-1945), the Office of Price Administration and the Office of Price Stabilization (1941-1953) and the American Lumber Standards committee established by the National Bureau of Standards (1949-1959).

The Northern Pine Association lasted until 1960 when it merged with the Northern Hemlock and Hardwood Association of Green Bay to form the Northern Hardwood and Pine Manufacturers Association (NH&PA).    A softwood lumber inspection bureau of the NH&PA existed into 1985 to provide inspection services for the mills.   Administrative and financial difficulties led to dissolution of softwood inspection bureau and the relationship of the softwood mills with the Northern Hardwood and Pine Association.

During the period of 1983-1985, the leadership group of Jack Rajala, Ralph Hamel, and Roger Pukall investigated a number of options for professional management services in Chicago, and grading inspection services for the Lake States Softwood sawmills and their association.  After consideration of options and the relationship of then Association President and ALS Chair Jack Rajala and Dave Hancock representing NELMA, the newly formed Northern Pine Association reached agreement on grading services and representation on the NELMA Board of Directors in 1985.  Since that beginning, NSLB members have enjoyed the support of NELMA, their leadership, and dedicated inspectors.

In 1990, The Northern Pine Association changed its name to Northern Softwood Lumber Bureau (NSLB) with leadership under Ralph Hamel, Jack Hedstrom, and Pete Aube, with each serving as its President for the last 16 years.   During this period, in stark contrast to the general contraction of the US lumber industry, the softwood volume produced by Lake States mills increased dramatically from approximately 200MMBF to 500 MMBF driven by substantial investments by Biewer Lumber, Nagel Lumber, and Potlatch Corporation which combined with the smaller mills with generations of lumber history including Rajala, Pukall, and Hedstrom, all contributing to its rich history and vision for a better future for our mills and industry.  In 1998, NSLB topped out at 17 member mills.

To that end, in 2017, by joining NELMA, the U.S. mills of the Lake States and Northeast to the Atlantic will be an even stronger association for the representation and promotion of the northern softwood species and lumber commerce and standards that built much of this great nation, and will do so for generations to come.

Note:  This historical summary of NSLB was prepared by Peter Aube of Potlatch Corporation, with assistance from Ralph Hamel of Hamel Forest Products.