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Forest Products Week: Opportunity for Progress | Commentary

This week is National Forest Products Week, a good time to recognize the employees and industries who manufacture and distribute forest products. As forest fires raged across the West this summer, devastating communities and destroying homes, national attention was brought to the importance of fire preparedness, as well as fire prevention forest management. The forest products industry plays a role in this area.

In our home states of Idaho and Oregon, forestry, logging, wood products, and pulp and paper manufacturing support nearly 48,000 jobs, contribute almost $2.6 billion to our local economies through wages and produce nearly $10 billion in shipments from our states. And that’s just for traditional products.

Forest product companies continue to demonstrate new technologies. Tall wood buildings are a promising area of innovation in the forest products industry. Years of research and experience have shown that wood buildings can withstand the effects of major wind and seismic events. Innovative technologies for building with wood are using “mass timber” panels, which combine the beauty of wood with the strength and increased fire resistance of heavy timber.

Just last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced two award-winning tall wood building designs as part of U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. These designs — a 12-story building to be built in Portland, Ore. and a 10-story building to be built in New York City — will stand as testaments to the benefits of mass timber.

Wood is a cost effective, energy efficient, renewable and sustainable alternative for building multiple-story buildings in urban environments. When harvested sustainably, wood is one of the best materials available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon in buildings. As forests grow, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Finished wood products continue to store that carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere indefinitely. Using wood in place of fossil fuel-intensive materials also avoids most of the greenhouse gases that would have been emitted during manufacturing.

Rural communities also benefit from the sustainable building practices of urban areas. The environmental benefits associated with tall wood buildings are helping to strengthen markets for wood products, in turn stabilizing the wood industry’s ability to create jobs and support local economies. Strong markets for wood products provide a financial incentive for landowners to invest in their forests and keep them healthy for future generations.

As we celebrate innovative ideas in the forest products industry, we will also keep working to boost forest health through fire suppression and prevention efforts across the West. For that reason, we joined together to introduce legislation to fix the broken federal fire suppression funding system to ensure that projects that improve the health of our forests don’t get shortchanged.

Importantly, our Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would improve the way wildfire suppression is funded without increasing federal funding. The bill accomplishes this by treating the largest fires like other natural disasters by funding the fight against emergency wildfires through existing disaster programs. By allocating funding for wildfire suppression within existing disaster funding limits, our approach does not increase federal funding and avoids the all-too-often need for off-the-books emergency spending when suppression costs exceed appropriated funds. The legislation also includes reporting requirements to encourage agencies to contain costs and ensure that every dollar is spent in a fiscally responsible manner.

Combining sound forest management with innovative forest products is the way to ensure a sustainable economic and environmental future for urban and rural communities.

Sen. Michael D. Crapo is a Republican from Idaho. Sen. Ron Wyden is a Democrat from Oregon.

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