Sustainable wood utilization brings economic opportunities to rural communities

A stack of hardwood pallet cants at a manufacturing facility.


Photo By USDA Forest Service photo by Patrick Rappold

The Forest Service continues to invest in innovation in the forest products economy through the agency’s Wood Innovation Grants, Community Wood Grants, Wood Products Infrastructure Grants and Wood Education and Resource Center Grants programs.

“Without viable markets for low-value hardwoods, the ability to implement pre-commercial forest health treatments will be greatly impaired,” said Patrick Rappold, the Eastern Region’s wood utilization specialist. “Through the Wood Innovations and Wood Education and Resource Center funding programs, for-profit and nonprofit entities are able to secure funding to explore new market opportunities for low-value hardwoods.”

Low-value hardwoods and wood waste material can be used to produce oriented strand board, medium-density fiberboard, paper products, wood pallets and crates, and biochar. Another example is wood pellets, which are manufactured from wood waste and provide an efficient alternative heating source.

These efforts can result in high-paying manufacturing jobs and sustainable economic development in rural areas, contributing to a more environmentally friendly and economically viable future. In 45 states, the forest products industry ranks among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers. It employs about 950,000 individuals nationwide, according to the American Forest and Paper Association.

West Virginia University hosted a two-day symposium in April funded by a grant from the Forest Service Eastern Region’s Wood Education and Resource Center, bringing together leaders in the wood industry, academia, and government to foster innovation, exchange knowledge and encourage collaboration. Topics focused on the innovative use of wood, with a special emphasis on underutilized hardwood species for economic growth. Participants explored the potential of wood products in infrastructure applications, energy savings, carbon storage, and waste reduction.

Funding by the Forest Service will continue to help the wood industry to develop new markets and innovations, a key element in sustainably managing forest resources and investing in rural economies.


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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).