Michael Blazier, Van Osdell, Mary Ann
Fifty-seven 50-year-old pine trees at the LSU AgCenter Hill Farm Research Station are being cut down and sliced to get wood quality data. Over the years, the trees had been used in numerous research studies that were recently concluded.
The research is one of the longest projects ever at the Homer facility, said Dr. Michael Blazier, who is the most recent project leader. Few loblolly pine research projects have trees this old. "We have made sure this study would be viable all this time," he said.
Blazier, assistant professor of forestry, called his predecessors forward-thinkers. Tom Hansborough initiated the research, followed by Rodney Foil, Bob Merrifield and Terry Clason. "All went on to high-level administrative positions," Blazier said.
Prominent international forest products companies are eager to see the results. "This could impact how companies manage their timber throughout the Southeast," Blazier said
Blazier said researchers have already incorporated this study’s growth data into models to help predict timber yields in the Southeast. He explained that density management of loblolly pine forests, which is guided by decisions on how many trees to plant and how intensively to partially harvest the forest, may affect strength properties of wood.
The LSU AgCenter is working in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Lab in Athens, Ga., the University of Georgia Wood Quality Consortium and Weyerhaeuser, an international forest products company, to test the wood properties using high-end analytical techniques.
"This is a multi-university, multi-institutional effort," Blazier said.
"The wood contained in these trees has a lot of secrets," he said. "When you look backward in time via the trees' growth rings, there is much to learn about how our forest density management treatments have impacted wood quality."
Researchers will use the measurements to calculate strength and quality aspects of wood. Results from tests for tensile strength, bending characteristics and other variables will show how the wood quality formed across a spectrum of tree sizes and density management techniques.
"For the past 50 years, this study has shown how manipulating the number of trees on site can give landowners the right mixture of products--sawtimber, pulpwood and chip-and-saw," Blazier explained.
Although wider spacing means fewer trees, it enhances the growth of the trees because they have less competition and more room to grow, Blazier said.
Analysis will be done in the winter, and results will likely be ready for stakeholders in Louisiana in the next six months, Blazier said. He said results will be helpful for mill owners, landowners and land managers.
"There is a potential to save millions of dollars by helping people alter management regimes in an optimum way," he said.
Blazier said the research is significant because it has been "well manicured behind secure areas." Workers recently completed the first phase of slicing the 95-foot-tall trees into 16-foot lengths. They will cut down more trees in September.