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One-of-a-kind lumber yard only stocks wood that meets FSC rules

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Sustainable Northwest Woods does most of its business with contractors, but anyone can walk in and buy wood such as these artsy planks, which some customers use to fashion desks and tables. There’s no need to scrutinize the fine print to assure you’re buying sustainably cut timber at the inner Southeast Portland lumber yard run by Ryan Temple.

Every piece sold at Sustainable Northwest Wood must meet or exceed the standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world’s most respected “green seal” for wood products. Half the wood comes from Oregon, and Temple enjoys telling personal stories about the origin of his inventory, much as restaurateurs do when serving local meat and produce.

Shoppers at the 7,500-square-foot lumber yard a few blocks south of OMSI might find cedar cut from a Girl Scout property in Stevenson, Wash., a Nature Conservancy site in Willapa Bay, Wash. or from the city of Forest Grove’s watershed.

None of the plywood contains urea formaldehyde, so it won’t release carcinogenic fumes.

The bulk of the inventory was cut by major Oregon timber companies such as Roseburg Forest Products or Collins Companies, in forests and mills where they've committed to meet or exceed FSC standards. Some comes from small operations like family-run Zena Forest Products west of Salem.

Sustainable Northwest Wood offers butcher block tables, landscape timbers and other products made from juniper, which has grown out of control in Eastern Oregon and needs to be pared back to enable environmental restoration. Temple is part of a concerted campaign to create a market for juniper products.

The nonprofit Sustainable Northwest opened the lumber yard four and a half years ago at the peak of the Great Recession. Temple says it was quite a risk, as it’s the only exclusively green lumber yard of its kind in the country that he knows. Sustainably harvested wood generally costs about 10 percent more, he says.

The five-employee business is now turning a profit, with $1.5 million in sales for 2012-13, up 25 percent from the prior fiscal year.

Temple estimates 10 percent of the wood sold in Oregon is now FSC-certified. “If you asked me the same question five years ago, the answer would have been 1 percent.”