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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #972: Hamilton, Thomas E. (June, 2009)

View all of First Interview Session (July 28, 2008)

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00:15:02 - 00:19:09 Government Programs

government programs, wood conservation, projects, small diameter timber, travel, wood utilization

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Were there any initiatives that were particularly exciting or interesting that you thought, that were going on in those early years?


Well one that in a sense has always been part of the Forest Products Lab, but we made conservation of wood a major initiative for us. As I said some of that was going on already but then we were able to develop some new things to go along with that and that included recycling, which a number of our programs were already addressing but we started some new things. It included reuse, so we tried to find ways to reuse wood that had been in use for another purpose but instead of just sending it to the landfill, perhaps there would be a way to use in a different way. A good example of that was the work that went on with the Defense Department in deconstruction of some of their buildings. It also included how to make wood last longer in use so it included things like our preservation work, our paints and finishes work, but also things like how do you prevent moisture from getting into walls of buildings and causing deterioration and it included things like the nondestructive evaluation work, where our scientists developed ways to test the soundness of wood using basically sound waves so that you only had to remove defective members from a building or anything else made of wood and replace them rather than have to tear the whole building down.

Then we added to that, one additional thing and that was using material that perhaps hadn't been used before or didn't fit current manufacturing techniques. The biggest example of that was use of small diameter, low-value, material in the West. And to start that initiative we made a number of trips to various regions in the West---myself and our assistant directors, and usually one or two scientists from the Lab---and we traveled around those regions, met with communities, Forest Service people, industry and others and talked about what their issues were. Of course fire a big one. The other big one was the fact that traditional sources of timber were declining and so they were looking for other supply sources and small diameter timber in fire prone regions was a major opportunity as well as something that needed to be removed. The Forest Service was kind of on a program at that time of paying for its removal, for removing it as forest management thing. We tried to change that into removing it as a potential raw material for wood products. And I think were successful in some cases and continued to be successful in that the Lab continues to work on that. So that was a major part of that conservation initiative and one that's continued---one that a lot of other people have picked up on now. It's kind of a nice one because it really gets at the question of fire prevention, remove that material before the fire comes through, rather than fire suppression, which the Forest Service is well known for putting out the forest fires after they start. So we were in the fire prevention business. And that was a very interesting and exciting line of work. And, as I said, one that continues today and continues to grow.

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