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At a value-added wood manufacturing plant...

Are foresters in Oregon planting alder to supply Wood Products manufacturers?

Most Oregon land managers interested in growing a commercial timber species tend to plant conifer species like Douglas-fir on the west side of the Cascades and ponderosa pine on the east side. However, since the mid-'90s the commercial value of red alder has increased significantly: nowadays red alder is planted commercially, and the timber value of red alder is competitive with that of Douglas-fir.

When alder is kiln dried, the cell structure collapses and becomes fairly dense. This makes it easy to hold screws, and easy to plane and to mill. Red alder wood is typically used for cabinetry and other furniture, and not typically to make structural lumber.

In traditional unmanaged alder stands, it can take 50-70 years for red alder to reach diameters large enough to make sales profitable. But research suggests that planting and density management can achieve commercially viable diameters in 25-35 years. Commercial planting of red alder is mainly done by private forestland owners, on both industrial and family forests.

Foresters occasionally plant red alder for reasons other than its timber value. Red alder, like all other alders, fixes nitrogen. It can be planted on sites that may have nutrient-poor forest soils, and the red alder will both grow better than conifers and improve the soil over time. It can be planted intermixed with other tree species and provide the same soil-building benefit.

Red alder is also occasionally planted in sites where fungal pathogens are endemic and kill their conifer hosts. There are certain root-rot fungi, for example, that kill Douglas-fir trees. The fungus travels from root to root from one Douglas-fir to its neighbors. In time "root rot pockets"-- zones in forests where trees have died as a result of fungal infection-- develop in forests. The fungus can reside in the root rot pockets for 1/2 a century, biding time for other trees to grow and become host. Red alder is a poor host to these root rot fungi, so planting red alder in a root rot pocket allows a commercial timber crop to grow in an area unsuitable for most conifers, builds up soil nutrients through alder's nitrogen-fixing capacity, and provides the time necessary for the root rot fungi to die back in that area of infestation.

Can fast-growing poplar be used for furniture making?

Poplar is now grown and harvested as a timber resource. A decade ago virtually all poplar plantations were planted and managed for fiber production, to produce wood for pulp and paper mills. These days poplar is considered a reliable substitute to alder, pine and spruce in many of their current markets.

Poplar wood is light in color and easily accepts stain and paint. It can be used in a variety of applications: veneer, panels, select and common grade lumber, molding, chips, oriented strand board, etc. It is not, however, yet recommended for structural applications.

It is becoming more and more poplar (er, popular) each year to grow poplar in plantations. Greenwood Resources is one land management company who specializes in this activity.