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New Hybrid Poplar Demonstration BuildingDemonstration Center

When the vigorous growth characteristics of hybrid poplar (cottonwood) trees were demonstrated by the University of Washington/Washington State University, paper companies took notice. When Oregon State University released its economic analysis showing the potential of hybrid poplars to be more profitable for growers than many current field crops, farmers began to rethink their resource allocations. When bankers offered to structure case-by-case landowner assistance contracts, investors knew / the poplar market was established. Poplar plantations have moved past the experimental phase into a viable and dependable crop.

Large TreeFuturists have combined the economic potential of hybrid poplars in the wood products industry with the societal needs for alternative wood and wood fiber resources, soil building and erosion control, carbon dioxide capture, waste water treatment and other concerns that can be directly impacted through poplar culture.

Now Broadacres Nursery, Inc. of Hubbard, OR, has shown hybrid poplar has a place among premium products in the building materials industry. Broadacres has built the first poplar demonstration center in the western United States. Ninety-eight percent of the materials used in the new 1,500 square foot headquarters building are poplar and poplar by-products. Clear finished trim and window casings milled from several of poplar varieties show color and grain characteristics. Cabinetry created using birch-faced poplar plywood shows the characteristic cottonwood ability to hold its shape without warping. Wall cut-outs enable the visitor to see the poplar post and bean construction of the first floor and the engineered poplar joists on the second floor. Three different framing techniques were used to show the flexibility of poplar in building applications.

The Hubbard Poplar Demonstration Project required nine months to complete. It also required the cooperation of local contractors, craftspeople and suppliers from across the United States. Trus Joist MacMillan, Boise, ID, manufactured the Timber/strand TM structural framing materials at their Minnesota facility. They also assisted the Ethells in engineering the structural specifications. Mt. Baker Plywood Company, Bellingham, WA, provided the cabinet grade plywood. Potlatch Corporation, Lewiston, ID supplied the logs that became finish moldings. K-Ply Wood Products Company, Port Angeles, WA manufactured the structural plywood used in the project. Key Bank of Oregon provided construction financing for the entire project. Finished costs came in at a competitive $60.00 per square foot. Noting the efficiency of using the engineered wood products, Sandra Ethell said, "All the scrap lumber left over after the project was finished would fit in the trunk of a car."

Craftspeople working on the project added their perceptions of the benefits they saw in working with the poplar products. Jerry Van Gorkum, AABCO Plumbing, Keizer, OR said they were "easier to drill." Carpenter Brad Nowak, Donald, OR who handled the framing said, "You don't have to crown structural members and its easier to toenail." Columbia Woodworking, Woodburn, OR commented on the stability of the cabinet grade plywood. Dary Breshears at Columbia Molding and Millwork, Tigard, OR reported that the poplar materials were as good or better than any of the other materials they are running through their mill. Ray Ethell, who stayed close to the entire construction project added that they "found no tearing, fuzzing or chipping" in the preparation of moldings and, "no pre-drilling was needed to prevent splitting when nailing."

Beyond applications already developed in the paper industry, this demonstration project moves the hybrid poplar past old perceptions of the poplar as a "junk tree." The poplar materials were easy to work with due to their dimensional stability, light weight and low rate of defects. Ray Ethell described the experience as "interesting and educational." He added, laughing, "I needed a bigger office anyway." The project also showed that poplar wood products can have a major role in the forest products industry of the future.

While the poplar requires an ample water supply and more initial management than traditional forest species, the potential for poplar products is enormous. Potlatch Corporation's 22,000 acre hybrid poplar program is already scheduled to provide 700 tons of wood chips per day to its Lewiston, ID pulp mill, replacing dwindling supplies from traditional sources. Additional significant poplar planting and development has also been done by Georgia-Pacific, James River, Boise-Cascade, MacMillan-Bloedel, and others.

For more information:

Columbia Pacific RC&D at

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