Understanding Wood

At Wilsonart, understanding the role we can play in preserving the environment is every bit as important as crafting innovative and inspiring products.

For decades, architects and designers have specified wood to bring warmth and beauty to their work. Many of these professionals believe that since trees can be replanted, they’re a renewable resource. Unfortunately, our ecosystems are complicated, and this perception is incorrect. While trees are renewable, forests are not. Many of the vibrant, diverse tree species across the globe are endangered or threatened. Additionally, trees are being harvested from protected forests which also damages our ecosystem. We know that using responsibly sourced wood is already a priority for architects and designers. This is an important start. However, we’ve discovered a lack of understanding within the industry about which woods and forests are endangered or threatened. Wilsonart’s UNDERSTANDING WOOD: SOURCING AGAINST THE GRAIN is designed to fuel architects and designers with the resources, support and educational opportunities that will further enhance their knowledge of endangered and threatened woods.

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Industry Survey and Insights

Wilsonart conducted a national survey of architects and designers and learned that these professionals need more information about the materials they specify, particularly when it comes to natural resources. Read more about the survey findings or view the full infographic.

Bridging The Gap

Bridging the Gap

Most respondents have a limited awareness of endangered wood. Respondents understand environmental implications, but there’s a knowledge gap related to regulations and facts.

99%
couldn’t identify
the majority of endangered and threatened wood.
46%
didn’t know of
an important lumber resource law, THE LACEY ACT.

Bridging the Gap

On October 3, 2018, Wilsonart hosted its second annual National Day of Learning. This one-day event provided information and tools to help architects and designers specify non-endangered wood for their projects. Grace Jeffers, thought leader, design historian and materials expert, presented two live-streamed CEU sessions on the topic of Global Forestry. In addition, she has written DESIGN FOR GLOBAL FORESTRY, a white paper which explores endangered woods, protected forests and alternative materials. Also, view a list of environmental stewardship resources.

“One of the great mantras of materials is ‘wood is a renewable resource.’ Yes, we cut down trees, replant them, they grow, and in this way wood is a renewable resource. But by cutting down trees, we are destroying forests and their unique, unquantifiable ecosystems; therefore, a forest cannot be renewed. To better understand, it is important to consider two factors  —  time and nature.” - Grace Jeffers in Design for Global Forestry

Bridging the Gap

On October 3, 2018, Wilsonart hosted its second annual National Day of Learning. This one-day event provided information and tools to help architects and designers specify non-endangered wood for their projects. Grace Jeffers, thought leader, design historian and materials expert, presented two live-streamed CEU sessions on the topic of Global Forestry. In addition, she has written DESIGN FOR GLOBAL FORESTRY, a white paper which explores endangered woods, protected forests and alternative materials. Also, view a list of environmental stewardship resources.

58%
believe it’s their duty
to know which questions to ask of distributors and suppliers.
32%
have no official policy
or procedures to help identify endangered or threatened wood.
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About Respondents

  • 70% are making it a priority to use responsibly sourced wood
  • 67% are willing to pay more for legally sourced wood
  • 52% are concerned about prosecution for using illegal wood
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Interlochen Partnership

Founded in 1928, INTERLOCHEN ARTS ACADEMY is one of the country’s preeminent high schools for young artists. Wilsonart has underwritten an interdisciplinary class where students explore conservation issues and the critical role forests play in the delicate balance of nature. In addition to the class, Wilsonart’s grant provides stipends for visiting guest artists to collaborate with the students and explore how art, creativity and imagination can be used to raise awareness of healthy eco systems. Finally, Wilsonart’s grant is helping to transform a plantation forest on Interlochen’s campus into a thriving, native forest. Blog posts, pictures and videos from the students help us follow along on this journey.

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The Art of Ecology: Increasing Biodiversity

June 24, 2019

After a selective logging, Art of Ecology students plant native species to increase the biodiversity of Riley Woods. Support for this project was provided by Wilsonart.

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The Art of Ecology: Earth Day

June 24, 2019

Art of Ecology students present a special Earth Day convocation, sharing their knowledge with their peers through original songs and dances. Support for this project was provided by Wilsonart.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: Responding through art

April 9, 2019

Art of Ecology students use art to convey what they’ve learned about the ecosystem of the Riley Woods. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: Observation and appreciation

January 23, 2019

Guided by Instructor of Ecology Mary Ellen Newport and guest artist Lydia Hicks, a new group of Interlochen Arts Academy students explore the changing environment of the Riley Road pine plantation. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart.

Read More

Year Two, Wilsonart Riley Woods Project

September 18, 2018

Have you ever been in a science class where you were bored to death? Me too.
After years of biology, chemistry, even advanced chemistry, I felt bored out of my mind. Now, for the first time in my academic career, I am finally enjoying my science class. I’m taking ecology, and my teacher believes in taking full advantage of the wonderful environment that surrounds us as part of education. Our Ecology class is helping to return a pine plantation to a natural forest, and our efforts can serve an artistic purpose as well. I’ve never been more inspired by environmental work in my life. Not only do we get to have hands on opportunities to help in the process, but we were provided with an amazing assortment of filming technology to document and capture the habitat in all of its beauty.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: Restoration through beauty

June 20, 2018

Environmental artist Mary O’Brien explains how she is working with fellow artist Daniel McCormick and Interlochen Arts Academy students to restore the Riley Woods environmentally and aesthetically. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: Revitalizing the forest

June 5, 2018

Art of Ecology students explain the importance of reforestation, their collaboration with guest artists Mary O’Brien and Daniel McCormick, and using art to express scientific ideas.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: An Evolving Forest

February 22, 2018

This year Interlochen Center for the Arts has begun a project to unite science and art in transforming a pine plantation into a beautiful native forest. Director of the R.B. Annis Math and Science Division Mary Ellen Newport and Director of Visual Arts Mindy Ronayne explain the ecological and artistic intent of the project, and the many partners working to make this collaboration possible.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: Laying the Groundwork

January 22, 2018

In the fall of 2017, Interlochen Arts Academy launched an initiative that explores the nexus of art and ecology, as a collaboration between the Visual Arts and R.B. Annis Math and Science Divisions. Watch as co-instructors Mary Ellen Newport and Johnson Hunt describe the mission, objectives and learning outcomes of this bold program. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Read More

Student Observations: When You Must See the Forest for the Trees

January 5, 2018

To return the mature pine plantation on Interlochen’s campus to a natural, healthy state, the Interlochen community needs to address several ecological issues. These issues are soil quality, biodiversity and the amount of carbon stored in plantation trees.

Read More

A Unique Collaboration

December 5, 2017

Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA), nestled between Duck Lake to the east and Green Lake to the west, is an Ecology teacher's dream. "In the stately pines" of northern Michigan, IAA educates high school arts students from around the USA and the world. With a full academic and boarding school program, arts students can dive into their disciplines with the finest teachers and peers. I came to the Academy six years ago to head the R.B. Annis Math and Science Division, and to teach Ecology. Through a wonderful series of connections, Wilsonart approached us about a collaboration that will weave their commitment to education about endangered woods and forests with a unique approach to art and ecology.

Read More

The Art of Ecology: Increasing Biodiversity

June 24, 2019

After a selective logging, Art of Ecology students plant native species to increase the biodiversity of Riley Woods. Support for this project was provided by Wilsonart.

Share Return to the Blog

The Art of Ecology: Earth Day

June 24, 2019

Art of Ecology students present a special Earth Day convocation, sharing their knowledge with their peers through original songs and dances. Support for this project was provided by Wilsonart.

Share Return to the Blog

The Art of Ecology: Responding through art

April 9, 2019

Art of Ecology students use art to convey what they’ve learned about the ecosystem of the Riley Woods. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart.

Share Return to the Blog

The Art of Ecology: Observation and appreciation

January 23, 2019

Guided by Instructor of Ecology Mary Ellen Newport and guest artist Lydia Hicks, a new group of Interlochen Arts Academy students explore the changing environment of the Riley Road pine plantation. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart.

Share Return to the Blog

Year Two, Wilsonart Riley Woods Project

September 18, 2018

WILSONART SUPPORTS FORESTRY STUDIES AT IAA

Welcome to Ecology @ Riley Woods blog post series. Ecology students at Interlochen Arts Academy are supported for the second year by Wilsonart. Ash and Carter write the first post:

Have you ever been in a science class where you were bored to death? Me too.
After years of biology, chemistry, even advanced chemistry, I felt bored out of my mind. Now, for the first time in my academic career, I am finally enjoying my science class. I’m taking ecology, and my teacher believes in taking full advantage of the wonderful environment that surrounds us as part of education. Our Ecology class is helping to return a pine plantation to a natural forest, and our efforts can serve an artistic purpose as well. I’ve never been more inspired by environmental work in my life. Not only do we get to have hands on opportunities to help in the process, but we were provided with an amazing assortment of filming technology to document and capture the habitat in all of its beauty.

On our first trip out to the Riley Woods, our Ecology class headed south down the path. On the east horizon was the sun (morning) but gradually it moved to be right above us (noon) by the time we left the woods. Visiting artists had trekked through the same trail and painted the tips of tree stubs red for the “aesthetic.” We learned that some trees had been cut down to stubs to allow light to enter the woods.

But why make a pine plantation? Why plant white pines (distinguished by having five pine needles in a bunch and a dark bark) and red pines (distinguished by having two pine needles in a bunch and, self explanatory, red bark)? When people voyaged to Michigan years ago and exploited the land, they realized the soil was made of sand and considered it poor soil. Because it’s difficult to farm on, they planted trees.

The trees in the plantation had fewer branches and they were skinnier than the native trees. The plantation has three times the amount of trees it should have and the pines were planted too close together. At a certain angle, you can see a straight row of trees. There is also not a grand diversity of age within the plantation, unlike the native side of the forest.

On our hike, we also found many mushrooms that sprouted from the intense rainfall and there was even a slug feeding off the nutrients that the mushroom was repurposing. The fauna of the forest hid from us, except for one small American Toad. Many students, including Zach and Carys, got to hold this toad in their hands until she hopped away.

Finally, we came to a clearing, “The North Coop,” where (guest artist) Lydia Hicks waited for us with equipment. In this section we were joined by the head of Motion Picture Arts and Interlochen Public Radio. We were introduced to solar panels and power packs, a time lapse camera, audio recorders, and an endoscopic camera. We also got to see a camera marketed as a “ghost hunting camera” which shoots in infrared for night time videoing (in case anyone has some “creative” ideas for their artist in residence projects…), a location tracking camera, and a canon 5D with a macro lens or telephoto lens.

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The Art of Ecology: Restoration through beauty

June 20, 2018

Environmental artist Mary O’Brien explains how she is working with fellow artist Daniel McCormick and Interlochen Arts Academy students to restore the Riley Woods environmentally and aesthetically. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Learn more about Interlochen Arts Academy: https://www.academy.interlochen.org

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The Art of Ecology: Revitalizing the forest

June 5, 2018

Art of Ecology students explain the importance of reforestation, their collaboration with guest artists Mary O’Brien and Daniel McCormick, and using art to express scientific ideas.

Support for this project provided by Wilsonart and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Share Return to the Blog

The Art of Ecology: An Evolving Forest

February 22, 2018

This year Interlochen Center for the Arts has begun a project to unite science and art in transforming a pine plantation into a beautiful native forest. Director of the R.B. Annis Math and Science Division Mary Ellen Newport and Director of Visual Arts Mindy Ronayne explain the ecological and artistic intent of the project, and the many partners working to make this collaboration possible.

Support for this project provided by Wilsonart and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Share Return to the Blog

The Art of Ecology: Laying the Groundwork

January 22, 2018

In the fall of 2017, Interlochen Arts Academy launched an initiative that explores the nexus of art and ecology, as a collaboration between the Visual Arts and R.B. Annis Math and Science Divisions. Watch as co-instructors Mary Ellen Newport and Johnson Hunt describe the mission, objectives and learning outcomes of this bold program. Support for this project provided by Wilsonart and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

https://www.wilsonart.com/understanding-wood

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Student Observations: When You Must See the Forest for the Treest

January 5, 2018

Teacher’s note: Students at Interlochen Arts Academy come to study arts in seven different arts areas, in addition to taking a traditional high school science, math and humanities curriculum. This blog post represents the work of two students; one, a creative writing major, and the other a music major. Both pieces were written over the course of Spring Semester 2017 through Fall Semester 2017. Very soon, we will begin restoring the beautiful red pine plantation forest on Riley Road on the Interlochen campus. This first step involves thinning the forest of 100+ trees so that new, native tree species can be re-introduced and the forest can evolve. Over the past few months, our students have been exploring the ecological considerations necessary to take this step, and documenting what is necessary for the forest restoration. Having spent more than half our class periods out at the Riley Road forest site, the forest itself has become our second classroom.

Ari, creative writing major: To return the mature pine plantation on Interlochen’s campus to a natural, healthy state, the Interlochen community needs to address several ecological issues. These issues are soil quality, biodiversity and the amount of carbon stored in plantation trees.

The soil in the pine plantation is very acidic due to the accumulation of pine needles. Because of the acidity of the soil, fungi and insects have a difficult time living in it, so very few fungi and insects live in the plantation. Due to the lack of these vital decomposers, many of the pine needles in the forest do not decompose quickly. This lack of speedy decomposition means that the soil has less organic matter in it. When the soil is very acidic and lacks organic matter and decomposers, it is harder for other species of plants that are not pines to germinate, which leads to a lack of plant biodiversity in the forest. The lack of plant biodiversity leads to lack of reliable food sources for animals, which leads to a lack of animal biodiversity. Therefore, to create a forest with good animal and plant biodiversity, the Interlochen community must lower the acidity of the soil and increase its organic matter and decomposer biodiversity.

The pine plantation was planted 70 years ago with red pine (Pinus resinosa), white pine (P. strobus) and Scotch (or Scots) pine (P. sylvestris). Because there are only three pine species in the plantation, the tree biodiversity of the plantation is low. However, because the pines are so tightly packed in the plantation, there is no room to plant other tree species. To increase tree biodiversity, IAA will have to create more space within the plantation to plant new trees. Because the pines drop so many needles that cannot readily be decomposed, there is a thick carpet of needles across the entire forest floor. Many undergrowth species have a challenging time germinating through this carpet, causing a lack of undergrowth biodiversity. To thin this carpet and subsequently increase undergrowth biodiversity, create space for new tree species and reduce needles accumulating on the forest floor, the plan is to remove some of the existing pines. Once some of the pines are removed, native species of trees can be planted which will increase tree biodiversity and enhance the soil in the forest floor. The plantation is surrounded on three sides by local native forest. Seeds and saplings will be transplanted and protected from deer browse to speed the forest conversion.

Over time, as the soil becomes less acidic, soil decomposition will return more organic matter. Native tree and undergrowth species will also provide year-round food for animals, which will lead to an increase in animal biodiversity. The documentation of this process of facilitated succession has begun in IAA Ecology classes, with measurements of soil quality, tree abundance and community diversity. As of Fall 2017, 24 bird species, 44 plant genera or species, and eight species of amphibians and reptiles have been documented in or around the ten-acre plot.

Mitchell, music major: As we spend time in class out in the woods, I am introduced to many new scientific and artistic concepts I had never thought of before. One of these is the relationship between art and ecology, specifically the way in which a forest can be a stage for artistic expression. When the plantation is cleared, there will be tree stumps left behind. My colleagues have come up with many artistic and brilliant ideas for how to make these stumps, and the entire forest, more aesthetically pleasing. My idea was more practical than artistic.

Looking around the plantation, I didn’t see many animals. That seemed natural, because the unnatural monoculture doesn’t exactly make the best home for forest animals. To invite more critters and crawlers to live in the area, I proposed the idea of hollowing out the stumps to make room for the animals to make homes. While the idea is simple by itself, it could be combined with my colleagues’ other more creative ideas to make something practical and beautiful.

I am learning about the effects of monoculture on an ecosystem. I now know that an ecosystem thrives on diversity, and a lack thereof stunts its growth dramatically. The plantation, with just one type of tree, feels more like a desert than a forest. The ground, covered with acidic pines needles, can’t nurture any other plants. The unified canopies of the trees create a wall that blocks out much of the sun, cutting off the plants’ food supply. Incorporating diversity where there is none already is a complicated process, because many species are aided or harmed by the presence of other species, meaning that the order in which the species move in is important. Our next steps are to figure out how to foster the growth of native species in the timbered areas.

This project was generously supported by Wilsonart and The Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs.

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A Unique Collaboration

December 5, 2017

Interlochen Arts Academy (IAA), nestled between Duck Lake to the east and Green Lake to the west, is an Ecology teacher's dream. "In the stately pines" of northern Michigan, IAA educates high school arts students from around the USA and the world. With a full academic and boarding school program, arts students can dive into their disciplines with the finest teachers and peers. I came to the Academy six years ago to head the R.B. Annis Math and Science Division, and to teach Ecology. Through a wonderful series of connections, Wilsonart approached us about a collaboration that will weave their commitment to education about endangered woods and forests with a unique approach to art and ecology.

The collaboration is an answer to a problem: what to do about aging pine plantations on the outer reaches of the 1200-acre campus. These plantations have not been maintained for harvest, so they are beginning to fall of their own accord. Pine needles acidify the soil, making it challenging for native hardwood forest communities to re-establish. And as trees fall and decompose, they liberate all the carbon stored as carbon dioxide (CO2). A recent Forestry Management Plan suggests that the pine plantations could be better managed to capture stored carbon, increase forest community biodiversity and restore the forest soils.

Only at Interlochen Arts Academy, we can make art about restoration of a native forest! With funding from Wilsonart, an Ecology class and a Visual Arts class (taught by my colleague Johnny Hunt) will team up with visiting artists to create landscape art in a 10-acre parcel of red pine and Scotch pine. The science and arts classes will be taught at the same time, so that science students (who are also artists) can collaborate with visual arts students to create an installation that tells the complex story of native forests, managed forests and human endeavor. I can't tell you about the installation - students will design and construct the art over the course of the 2017-2018 school year!

This spring I piloted some of the techniques we will use in the 10-acre woods for the Wilsonart-sponsored project. In addition to guest artists, we will bring in botanists, foresters, soil biologists and invasive species experts to help us with the restoration and creativity process.

The scientific process and good data collection are important, but of equal importance to me as a lover of trees and birds and morels and mayflies is the relationship that students develope to native ecosystems. Young people won't love what they don't know, and they won't fight for what they don't love. Our field work is the way for students not just to believe that everything is interconnected, but to know it through their own experience, through all their senses. We've learned our tree names, bird songs and frog calls. We walk through the forest with intimacy when the "cheeseburger, cheeseburger" of the black-capped chickadee, or the "oh sweet Canada-Canada-Canada" of the white-throated sparrow. There is noting like the smell of a newly felled pine, and the challenge of counting the rings to establish the age of the forest. Students smell the difference between the rich humus under the hardwoods and the sterile sand under the pines. As high school students, they can't always appreciate in the moment how amazing it is to hike through the pine plantation to an on-campus pond to find a pair of loons and young trumpeter swans feeding.

Likewise, that wide-openess will be part of a project to create, synthesize and install art in the woods as the transformation from plantation to natural forest is taking place. While guest artists will come to guide, inspire and provide feedback on what is possible, students will be the ones dreaming and creating art in the woods.

We are looking forward to the 2017-2018 school year and will be posting regularly about the students' experiences and the ongoing transformation of our beautiful red pine forest. In the coming months, also look for videos that will chronicle our progress.

This project was generously supported by Wilsonart and The Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs.

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