The Age of Wood

What doesn’t make sense about a 21st century civilization based on the innovative products of forests … a constantly renewable … carbon consuming … energy-efficient … infinitely adaptable resource?

Thank you. And hello everyone.

You know, a warm introduction like that makes me think that … maybe … you CAN always get what you want.

I very much wanted to be here in Portland with you for this mass-timber mass gathering … especially at a transformational moment for our industry.

Thank y’all.

Many of you know me from my night job. I play piano in a little band called The Rolling Stones, and have been privileged to work with a number of other artists throughout my years in music as well as maintaining a bit of a solo career. I guess you could say it gives me something to do when I’m not working.

Last year, the Stones toured Latin America. Mick and Keith and Charlie and Ron and all of us in the band hopscotched from Buenos Aires to Bogotá and beyond. We pulled some 70 or so tractor-trailers loaded down with equipment, and we used the good help of hundreds of crew members who put our show together. As you can imagine, it takes a tremendous amount of coordination among the band, crew, promoters, managers, record company representatives and others to put on the show.

It’s the tightest teamwork you ever saw – teamwork that sold a million tickets, kept the Stones name at the top of the rock ‘n’ roll world, and pumped financial adrenaline into 10 cities where we stopped and gave folks … satisfaction.

So, what’s my day job?

I do what you do. I’m a Tree Man!

My wife, Rose Lane, and I own and manage about 3,000 acres of forestland in Georgia. And just about every day that I am there, you will likely find me working in the woods. Planting trees, planning and overseeing a harvest operation, pruning trees, taking down trees that might be lighting struck or have become insect infested…and by the way, we have all of those sawn up rather than let them go to waste, and we have built many structures on our place out of them.

You might also find me plowing fire lanes and doing prescribed burns…trying not to step on rattlesnakes in the process.

I also engage in advocacy…having testified to Congress on a couple of farm bills and knocking on doors of lawmakers to remind them how important our industry is to them and their constituents. I also speak a lot, working for forests with all my might and main as a conservationist and an environmentalist.

You might say that it’s what I want to do when I grow up.

You think I’m kidding, right? That part about growing up? Well, here’s a story …

I learned to play the piano from my mother back in Tuscaloosa, who kept an old wooden upright for our family enjoyment. Mama played quite well. She would show me something on the keys, then leave me to piddle and make up stuff, just have fun … but she always listened from the next room.

At age 7, I had an epiphany – I wanted to play piano for a living! I got excited about it, and I ran to tell mom.

She could see I was all worked up. She said, My goodness, Chuck, what’s wrong?

Mama, I’ve made a big decision! I want to be a musician when I grow up!

She just smiled and patted my leg and said, Well, honey … you can’t do BOTH!

Let’s talk for a moment about an industry growing up … maturing.

Our business. Forests and trees and wood.

Today, we are coming of age. A new Age.

That’s what I see happening as a partner with the people in this room … as a businessman deeply concerned with sustainable management of our green spaces … and as a citizen invested in keeping our environment healthy and productive.

We in the tree business are growing up, right now. Sprouting. Thickening. Deepening our roots.

And I believe it’s just in the nick of time.

Our business is at a carpe diem moment. A crossroads.

We confront an opportunity today unlike any other in our lifetimes … and maybe ever.

A confluence of technology, good stewardship, and desperate need has opened the door for a nearly unimaginable expansion in the uses of wood and wood products. These past days at this conference, we’ve seen one of our most exciting frontiers, mass timber.

We’re maturing in a lucky moment … a moment that offers us in this room … and our partners beyond it … possibly the biggest windfall anyone in the wood products world has ever seen.

All of us feel it … everyone here in this room today feels it, this potential. If we take advantage of this opportunity in the right way … our forests and our trees will be the rock stars of the 21st century.

But how? How do we get there from here? How do we carpe this diem?

I mentioned teamwork.

We have our best shot at realizing this opportunity if we’re a formidable team, like the team that rolls the Stones all over the world. Not one by one. Not as this one company and this one scientist and this one consultant.


If we can own this moment … together … we might, literally, transform the world…for the better.

What bigger, better legacy can any of us leave?

Frankly, it’s what I’d like to be remembered for. Leaving the world a better place? Honestly, that makes a few record albums and a few concert memories seem a little trivial.

So here’s our opportunity, spelled out.

Certain innovations in the past have defined human history.


  • The development of rock tools and weapons gave rise to the Stone Age.
  • Control of fire and a little bit of Metallurgy 101 led to the Bronze Age.
  • Refined craftsmanship and new raw materials created the Iron Age.

And now? March 30, 2017?

We have a chance to introduce human history to … the Age of Wood.

The Wooden Age.

Is it too far-fetched to imagine?

Not really.

Don’t we all see a world in need of new answers? We’re struggling with dwindling resources … polluted skies and waters … ruined landscapes … and with too many humans somehow disconnected from something in our souls, the world of trees and green places?

What doesn’t make sense about a 21st century civilization based on the innovative products of forests … a constantly renewable … carbon consuming … energy-efficient … infinitely adaptable resource?

The Wooden Age … awaits.  

Our team only has to make it happen.

Technology’s the thing, of course. But let’s look at a few other factors driving this opportunity.

The U.S. housing market hasn’t been much to brag about since 2007. A decade. But it looks like we’ll finally see something better this year. After single-family housing starts fell to less than 500,000 in 2009, we’re projected this year to hit 1.3 million. Lumber demand qualifies as ‘strong’ at 1.5 million.

So momentum has begun for a forest products comeback.

That’s not the only sign of life. Look no further than here in Oregon.

International Paper recently made $100 million in improvements at the paper mill in Springfield. Weyerhaeuser put more than $50 million in that beam factory at Eugene. Swanson poured $54 million into rebuilding its plywood plant that burned in 2014.

President Trump’s focus on investment in U.S. infrastructure could boost sales of all sorts of forest products. And it’s hard to predict the effects of a renegotiated NAFTA trade agreement, but there’s a fighting chance it can resolve the cross-border trade war in wood products with Canada.

So now we come to technology, and the potential of mass timber.

The revolutionary possibilities of CLT and glulam, of course, is incentive enough to bring 700 people from 15 nations together for this conference.

We’re True Believers. We can see mass timber spearheading the whole Wooden Age.

Mass timber offers architects and builders … quote … “the first new way to put up tall buildings in 100 years,” as architect Michael Green told New Yorker magazine in an article last December.

Let me share a complete paragraph from that eye-opening article:

Designers sitting in a Manhattan studio can send electronic instructions to a factory in Oregon, which can spit out 1,000 slightly different components in the same time it takes to make 1,000 copies of the same part. Timber panels arrive on site like a prefabricated kit, with openings for windows, doors, and ducts already cut out. Assembly can be startlingly quick, “like a glorified Amish barn raising,” says Christopher Sharples, an architect at the New York–based firm SHoP.

This impressive conference has opened our eyes to all sorts of uses for mass timber. You could walk to China on the list.

But it all boils down to this:

With the speed, control, and scale enabled by mass timber technology … costs can go down … and forests can go up. We save the planet while we rebuild it.

What’s the catch?

There’s NOT one. None. Nada.

Mass timber is stronger than steel. It resists earthquakes. It retards fire better than steel. It’s cheaper to make than steel. Manufacturing one ton of steel creates about two tons of CO2 … but guess what? The CLT raw material … that miracle called a tree … actually captures carbon from the air and locks it away in a green bank vault to protect our planet. Instead of open pits for iron and coal, mass timber lets us enjoy forests filled with animals and hikers and … peace.

And…mass timber is only the tip of a green iceberg.

We now see innovative forest products used in a gazillion astonishing ways. Let me share some gee-whiz examples:

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have come up with biodegradable microwave chips to use in cell phones. These little guys, made of nano-particle wood fibers, could solve a big problem with landfills – the environmental toxicity we get when we throw away 140,000 computers and 400,000 cell phones every single day … in the USA alone. Those devices contain gallium arsenide. The word arsenide should tell you enough.

Forests are giving us nano-cellulose products that show up on liquid-crystal display screens … and in ultra-lightweight ultra-tough bulletproof vests worn by law enforcement officers and the military.

How about a green carbon fiber to form the bodies of vehicles? How about bioplastics? Synthetic petroleum? Paints? Pharmaceuticals? Or packaging materials that reinvent packaging?

All those products … are growing right out of the ground, right now.

That’s what I mean by maturing. Coming of age.

Step out of this conference center and walk not too far in any direction, and you can stand in the shade of the future.

You can stand in The Wooden Age.

So … what’s the roadblock? What’s holding us back from doing this right thing … the right way … for all the right reasons?

These are THE vital questions, aren’t they? And they need answers NOW.

To misquote a Stones song … Time, it’s NOT on our side. This moment can pass us by, folks. We could all meet here 10 years from now with these same ideas and same faces in the room … and a mouth full of feathers. Still waiting for someone to see or hear about us, to get excited about forests. Still waiting for something to happen.

But here’s what we can do. Now. On the way to the airport or back to the office or back to the forest after this conference.

We can come together. We can team together. We can be the rising tide that lifts all wooden ships.

Our teamwork will help us address critical issues with what I call … The Three Ls.

Leadership. Legislation. And loose ends.

The first L, Leadership

Now is the time for those of us here in this conference … and others like us … to push like never before on our government, Republicans and Democrats, and major environmental groups.

It’s time we had the leadership we need to end destructive 20th century practices … and move our country and our world closer to a sustainable green model of management.

Our leaders must be made to understand the environmental benefits of building with wood versus steel or concrete.

We need champions who grasp how management with ‘ecological forestry’ principles can be a true environmental paradigm shift that anyone can imitate … everywhere in the world.

I’ll say more about this … let me come back to it in a moment.

The second L, Legislation

I heard people in Alabama all my childhood declare that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Our business has seen a lot of paving, hasn’t it?  

Let’s face it … the unintended consequences of some of our well-intentioned environmental policies have resulted in forests with catastrophic wild fires, unprecedented insect infestations, invasive infestations, erosion problems, and other serious issues that, frankly, discourage forestry.

For those of us managing green spaces, these unintended consequences, and others, can feel like death from a thousand cuts.

We need to convince those making environmental policies that the best methods for forestry management just might be … guess what? Actually actively MANAGING THE FOREST!!

Prescribed burns, as one example, mimic the small, frequent, environmentally healthy fires that naturally occur in wild forests. These small fires, as you know, preempt disaster. They burn up the fuel that would inevitably feed the kind of huge catastrophic wildfires we’ve seen in the last few years.

Recently, in some hotel on a concert tour, I surfed through TV channels. I saw news footage from one of those roaring monster wildfires.

God help those families and that community.

Could different forestry management techniques have prevented that disaster?

The third L, Loose Ends

For whatever reasons, our efforts to build public awareness about a potential Wooden Age have often been fragmented, disjointed.

That approach is just not working.

I am encouraged by the new North American Forest Partnership and the Check-off programs that are just coming on line…but we need to make sure these efforts are well coordinated and not creating confusion or interfering with each other. And…we need to do even more.

We need Rolling Stones teamwork. We need to join for strength, the way we join separate pieces of lumber to create the super-strong CLT products we’ve been hearing about at this conference.

We need a strong, united voice to make the case for using wood from sustainably managed forests … and to build a greater appreciation for the timber industry and how it might just change the world as we know it.

We need the voices and energies of The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Wild Turkey Federation, all our friends who value forests and support this forestry and wood products revolution in the making.

We need men like former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack … and the new Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue … and MORE … all singing from the same song book.

We may not see another chance quite like this one, folks.

We have to seize this day!

It’s high time.

To invoke the words of the very first U.S. Forest Service Chief, Gifford Pinchot, we have this shining moment of opportunity to team up for the … quote … “greatest good, for the greatest number, over the longest period of time.”

I would like you all to know about a project I have in the works. It requires my personal initiative. It requires our teamwork.

Last year, I received some modest U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Forest Resources Institute funding. It was earmarked for developing a 30-minute pilot TV program called “America’s Forests with Chuck Leavell.”

After a few months of work, we have a pilot ready for prime time, and it will air this spring on Oregon Public Television. Our next move will be to pitch it to APT (American Public Television) networks. This means that each state (and in some cases, multiple stations per state) can choose whether to run it.

We’re proud of the pilot, shot mostly here in Oregon, but with a few scenes at Charlane, our place back in Georgia.

Today, for the first time ever in front of a forestry audience, we’ll show you a sizzle reel from our production.

Y’all pass the popcorn. It’s show time!


Isn’t that exciting? I think it offers us a real opportunity to reach the general public with our stories…in the right way. And as we know, there are so many stories we have to tell!

With a little luck … and a lot of elbow grease … this concept could ‘go commercial.’ We have a chance to create a new awareness for forestry products and innovations in millions of people.

The real goal is to make this into a full 13-part series…perhaps on a National Geographic, Discovery, Smithsonian, The Learning Channel, or other similar networks. We think “America’s Forests” has that kind of potential.

And if we are successful, we could even go further and make it “Forests of the World…” Wouldn’t that be something?

We only need two things to make this little dream a big reality.

One is teamwork. There’s that word again.

It can start in this room. I ask for you to spread the word and build support for this project. Use your networks. Use your traditional media. Use your social media. Let’s get a buzz started. A buzz for the greater good of wood.

We’ll also need funding. I’m not going to pass a collection plate today, but as public TV stations request more episodes of this very unusual forest product – a forest video – we’ll want to be ready for our encores.

Please let me know if you’ll help.

If we invest now to create The Wooden Age … it will pay us back many times over in years to come.

Thank you. It’s an honor to be part of this revolution in the making. 

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