Southeast Lawmakers Voice Support of Local Use Lumber Initiative
Stakeholder meeting Sept. 23, 2022
Posted & Edited By MARY KAUFFMAN
September 20, 2022
Despite high demand for locally-sourced dimensional lumber, small Alaskan sawmills cannot sell their lumber for load-bearing construction purposes such as one- and two-family residential units. The State of Alaska’s building codes require lumber to be graded and stamped for these types of construction projects, but Alaska does not currently have a local grading or self-certification option. The majority of wood used for residential construction must therefore be sourced from the Lower 48 or Canada.
“Alaskans should be able to use local lumber for their load-bearing construction projects, including homes," said Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins (D-Sitka). "It’s just common sense. With housing shortages and high construction costs, it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a local lumber grading option.”
“This program would make Alaskan products available for Alaskans, and it’s a win-win for multiple sectors of the market," said Representative Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan). "I encourage stakeholders and future legislatures and administrations to expand on this program idea.”
“The Sitka Conservation Society is supportive of this proposed program because it would allow for more widespread use of local forest products and help us build more sustainable communities with stronger economic linkages," said Andrew Thoms, Director of Sitka Conservation Society.
Thoms said, "This program, and work with local young growth timber, is part of a larger region-wide process of collaboration to figure out the best ways to manage our forest lands for long term social, economic, and environmental sustainability.”
This training program is additionally supported by the Southeast Conference, small sawmills and contractors, and Alaskans who care about decreasing housing costs and expanding housing options across the state. By increasing opportunities for small mills to grade their own lumber, Alaskans will be able to buy local lumber for their home construction needs and dreams, decrease shipment carbon pollution, and stimulate local economies.
The Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection is developing a new program to increase the use of Alaskan wood by allowing local sawmill operators to self-certify their lumber. Local Use Lumber is a concept that promotes locally produced dimensional lumber to be used in some residential construction, usually single and double family houses.
“We want to see more Alaskan homes built with quality Alaskan lumber,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “Because Alaska sawmill operators often do not have the financial resources to pay for lumber grading, most of the wood used for construction in Alaska is imported from the Lower 48 or Canada. The Local Use Lumber program will increase the use of Alaskan lumber in Alaskan markets, create family wage jobs, and contribute to self-sufficient and thriving economies in rural parts of the state.”
Current residential building codes such as the 2018 International Residential Code requires that lumber be graded into quality categories by one of the six associations that publish grading rules for softwood dimensional lumber, to ensure that dimensional lumber can withstand the stresses of loadbearing parts of a structure. To meet current building codes, Alaska imports about $20 million annually in wood products from Canada, much of that in dimensional lumber.
The financial and social cost of sourcing outside lumber has continued to rise:
Eng said, “Small sawmill operators would independently inspect their product to confirm it meets the necessary specifications for construction, save cost-prohibitive membership fees for certifying agencies, and access a larger market for the rough-cut dimensional lumber that they produce. This program will also support rural Alaskan communities in particular moving from cash-only purchases to financing quality, reliable housing like the rest of the state.”
Seven other states have Local Use Lumber laws or regulations. The Alaska concept is a voluntary program with the State creating regulations, and municipalities that determine building codes able to opt in to allow the use of local lumber.
A stakeholder meeting on Sept. 23, 2022 (meeting details) from 10 AM to noon with home builders, house inspectors, the home financing industry, mill operators, and municipal code enforcement officers will kick off the process and help the State identify any issues. For more information, click here.
It usually takes about 1.5 years to finalize regulations; without any challenges the program could be developed in as little as a year.
The public is also invited to attend the Alaska Board of Forestry meeting on Oct. 20, 2022 to hear more about the Local Use Lumber proposal. An upcoming public notice will have meeting details.