A USER'S GUIDE TO MASS TIMBER & THE WOOD INNOVATIONS GRANT PROGRAM
The Wood Innovations Grant Program was created administratively by the U.S. Forest Service in late 2013 to update a long-standing wood market development program the Agency had considered shutting down. Wood Innovations initially used a combination of existing authorities the Agency already had and deployed them in new ways. Then and now, Wood Innovations covers a suite of Wood Products, not just Mass Timber, but Mass Timber was identified as being a national priority for specific focus and remains so today. At the outset, Wood Innovations work in Mass Timber was branded “Changing How America Builds.” The program has made substantial contributions towards our Mass Timber progress thus far.
Due to Wood Innovations’ initial success, bipartisan groups in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate introduced supporting legislative proposals known as “The Timber Innovation Act” (TIA) in 2016 and 2017. Much of the language incorporated in those legislative proposals had been developed in advance by the Forest Service in the hope there would be legislative interest in further supporting the program.
When staff from both the House and Senate first approached the Forest Service seeking technical support for each Legislative Branch’s efforts, they were very specific it was the USDA Tall Wood Building Competition which had most gotten their attention on Mass Timber. That contest was initially prompted by the Forest Service and funded by USDA Rural Development and the Softwood Lumber Board. The exciting work featured in related media coverage and the compelling case it made for tall wood construction had gotten Members’ attention in both Houses of Congress.
During this time period, many legislators and their staff had taken the opportunity to become more familiar with Mass Timber by visiting the extensive year-long “Timber City” exhibition at the National Building Museum. That Exhibition was co-sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and the Softwood Lumber Board.
The two rounds of legislative introductions of The Timber Innovation Act paved the way for much of the TIA to be incorporated in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law in December 2018. That bill complimented the Wood Innovations provisions with a sister set of provisions for what is now known as the Community Wood grant program. Today, that Farm Bill provision is the basis for the Wood Innovations Program.
Fun footnote: The “Wood Innovations” name of the program was inspired by the Conservation Innovations Grant Program of USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.
While there is no requirement as to the specific dates of the Wood Innovation cycle, the Forest Service has consistently announced the annual Wood Innovations Request for Proposals during the third full week in October. Since 1960, that week has been deemed by Congress to be National Forest Products Week and each year there is a Presidential Proclamation recognizing it as such. Various events take place around the Country recognizing Forest Products Week, so it is fitting that is when the Request for Proposals goes out. Here is the Request for Proposals and Instructions for the 2022 cycle of Wood Innovations Grants: https://usfs-public.app.box.com/s/q9xogiiri8wg7y1n9p9e2e6zvsinlzju
Here is the actual grant application form for the 2022 Wood Innovations Grant cycle: https://usfs-public.app.box.com/s/2owlnfmu152c4hqf5qt4bnymn76k8u22
By going with that consistent time in October, the program seeks to be predictable for those attempting to use it and manageable for those delivering it. The 2021 Wood Products Week Presidential Proclamation specifically cites Wood Innovations. Here it is: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/10/15/a-proclamation-on-national-forest-products-week-2021/
For the 2022 grant cycle, Wood Innovation Grant Applications are due January 19, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. local time for the Forest Service Office to which you submit your application. Of note: the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorized an additional $12,000,000 for each fiscal year 2022 through 2026 for Community Wood Energy Program and the Wood Innovations Grant Program. This may effectively double the scale of these programs over their historic baseline.
Some aspects of the Wood Innovations grants vary year-by-year. This can include the overall amount of funds available, required financial match amounts, and other items. These reflect nuances in Congressional direction, additional learning by those delivering the programs, and items the Forest Service understands to be specific priorities.
In the past, some Wood Innovation grant proposals have attracted additional funding support from the Softwood Lumber Board. In 2021, the Board has announced specific funding that will be delivered in conjunction with the 2022 Wood Innovations program. The SLB 2021 Grant Announcement is here: https://softwoodlumberboard.org/the-softwood-lumber-board-partners-with-usda-to-support-three-2021-wood-innovations-grant-projects/
Funding decisions are publicly announced in the Spring.
Here is the overall Wood Innovations website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/science-technology/energy-forest-products/wood-innovation
WOOD INNOVATIONS IMPACT ON MASS TIMBER
The linkage between Wood Innovations and Mass Timber is quite strong. As mentioned above, Mass Timber has been a priority focal area of the Wood Innovations program since before there was legislation directly supporting the program, and it was Mass Timber more than anything else that led to the existence of the legislation that provides for the program today.
So far, dozens of Mass Timber investments have been made through the Wood Innovations competitive grant process. Some of the most notable Mass Timber projects thus far have had either direct or indirect support via Wood Innovations. The typical amount funded by Wood Innovations for each project is $250,000. Most recently, in 2021, 14 of the Wood Innovations projects funded were specifically focused on Mass Timber. See them here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/science-technology/energy-forest-products/wood-innovation-grants
A small number of direct investments have also been made in specific national priority projects. These select direct investments have included funding for:
· The Timber City Exhibition at the National Building Museum;
· WoodWorks’ invaluable training for design and build experts;
· Mass Timber Building Competition for Colleges and Universities; and
· Support of creation of the First International Mass Timber Conference.
Wood Innovations work has been created aligned with work being done by others, particularly the Forest Service’s own Forest Products Lab (FPL). Wood Innovations is more of a market development tool and FPL is more of a research organization, though the line between the two can be blurry. It was FPL that initiated federal funding for WoodWorks and then encouraged Wood Innovations take on that role and take it to another level. Conversely, it was Wood Innovations that initiated Department of Defense based blast testing of Cross Laminated Timber which used FPL as part of the technical delivery and evaluation of the tests. After initial outstanding results, FPL stepped into the Forest Service leadership role for the next cycle of blast testing work. Similarly, Wood Innovations and FPL both played side-by-side supporting roles in the International Building Code process that led to the major code revisions which took effect in 2021 and provide for Mass Timber construction up to 18 stories.
Beyond the Forest Products Lab, the Wood Innovations Program has benefited from a wide array of cooperators, notably WoodWorks, The Softwood Lumber Board, The American Wood Council, as well as multiple Universities, businesses, government agencies and non-profits.