Cedar Shingles, Forests & the Environment

From our friends at WoodRoof.com:

There is much concern these days about where our lumber and wood products are coming from, and rightly so. The environmentalists have succe eded in their goals to inform the world about the dangers of deforestation. They have created an atmosphere where the consuming public and world markets have demanded that logging companies, through governmental regulation, change their previously destructive logging practices. There has been many improvements in many parts of the world, but we are a long way from solving the problems of deforestation.

Western Red Cedar grows primarily on the west coast of North America in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. These areas have seen some of the most extensive changes in logging activity.

There are some distinctions that need to be made between logging for wood supply in western world and that of clearing land in developing countries. Logging companies in North America have huge forestry divisions that replant and care for all harvested areas. The land is given a helping hand to recover and replenish itself with the natural growth cycles of a forest. This is vastly different to cutting down virgin tropical rainforest to clear the way for new coffee plantations or banana crops.

In British Columbia, virtually 99% of the forests are owned by the people and managed on their behalf by the Provincial Government. Recent changes to the BC Forestry Practices Codes ensure that any timber harvested, be done so in absolute adherence to the laws of the land. The BC Ministry of Forests oversees these regulations. In fact, the BC Forestry Practices Codes were developed in conjunction with several international agencies, backed mostly by environmental and consumer groups. These agencies maintain a watchful eye on logging practices in BC and around the world. All parties involved work hard to create a balance between environmental concerns and economic issues on a local and global scale.

Yes – Western Red Cedar shingles and shakes are cut from temperate rain forest logs, but that is only part of the story.

The majority of red cedar handsplit & resawn shakes are produced from shake blocks. These blocks are harvested in a very environmentally friendly way. First of all, blocks come from areas that have been previously logged, somewhere between 100 years ago and yesterday. Decades ago, in many cases, cedar was left in the bush because it was not a marketable species. Blockers go in to these areas to find old dead and down cedar trees that will yield a wonderful raw material for shake production. In recent years, “blocker cutters” are actually sent in to an area prior to full scale logging to salvage this valuable, naturally dead and down resource. This is done in part to make the site safer for the loggers. Standing “snag” trees are a hazard as they can interfere with surrounding live trees that the logging companies harvest in larger quantities.

The blocker has to search the forest by foot for his scattered bounty. Blocks are cut to 24 inch (610mm) lengths and trimmed of knots and other defects. The trimmed, clean blocks are stacked in 1/3rd of a cord piles (1.0 m3) which are then lifted and flown to the waiting truck by helicopter. Very little of the natural flora is disturbed during this process. The next stop for the truckload of blocks in the shake mill.

In the case of sawn shingles – the mills are once again the scavengers of the forest industry. Lumber mills want solid, round logs of good length to make merchantable timber. Shake and shingle mills use the cedar logs that cannot be used for siding, decking, joinery, furniture and fencing. By cutting the short, broken, junky logs into 16 inch, (406mm) 18 inch, (457mm) and 24 inch, (610mm) lengths, a shingle mill can use logs that lumber mills reject.

Shake and shingle production is very labor intensive work. Each piece is touched by human hands many times during the process. This employs many workers and keeps local economies strong. It has been proven many times that for the same volume of wood harvested, the shake and shingle industry employs more workers, and yields more value that any other product made from Western Red Cedar.

More than just aesthetically beautiful, a shake or shingle roof has insulating properties that exceed those of most other products, many times over. Not only that, but the amount of energy required in manufacture a cedar roof is a mere fraction of that required to produce and transport asphalt shingles or tiles made from concrete or steel.

Now let’s talk about the life cycle of the roofing product. Where are we going to put all the asphalt shingles when their time is up? How long do they last? Then what happens to them? Like most man-made products, asphalt shingles remain “as is” in the landfill for many, many years. A wood roof  recycles itself naturally, quickly, with no toxic waste left behind.

What could really be more environmentally sound that a naturally durable, naturally recyclable wood roof?

We highly recommend you check out the GreenSpirit web site. It contains a wealth of information on the environment and sustainable forestry.