The agency responsible for deciding whether to put stricter limits on how Southern pine can be used in construction should trust the wood already in use, slow its consideration of changes, and open up the review process, a coalition of lumber and construction industry experts recommends. Meanwhile, one group that's arguably is most affected by the changes sent out its own recommendation calling for a more deliberate decision-making process.

The 54 individuals who make up the Southern Pine Design Value Forum sent their report on Dec. 16 to the American Lumber Standard Committee (ALSC). That quasi-governmental agency oversees the setting of grading standards and design values for U.S. lumber, and early next month it's slated to consider a proposal by the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau (SPIB) to reduce three design values for the species by between 22% and 39%. Groups overseeing other species have begun testing their own woods and might follow up next year with their own recommended changes.

SPIB's proposal this fall generated alarms across the Southern pine community, particularly among lumber dealers and truss and manufacturers. Forest Economic Advisors, a consultancy, has estimated the proposals could affect demand next year for more than 1 billion feet of visually graded Southern pine as well as trigger long-term changes in the price and popularity of machine-rated Southern pine, engineered lumber, and other types of softwood lumber. (Story)

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association (NLBMDA) and Structural Building Components Association (SBCA) issued notices warning the changes could affect thousands of projects under construction, force the redesign of buildings, and significantly reduce the value of lumber already in yards. On Tuesday, SBCA followed that up with a letter to ALSC asking it to create a "set of written processes or procedures that fully set out how parties who may be affected by either an approval or disapproval of the SPIB proposal can have a further hearing before the [ALSC] approval or disapproval becomes final." It also suggested that ALSC at its Jan. 5 meeting announce what SBCA termed a "proposed" rather than a "final" decision--one that groups like SBCA then could appeal.

SBCA's request continues a broad attack on SPIB for failing to advertise adquately its intentions enough before submitting its proposal to ALSC. At one point it was feared ALSC could adopt the rules at its October meeting, but just before that gathering it announced it would hold a second hearing on the issue on Jan. 5.

In preparation for that ALSC hearing, the Southern Pine Design Value Forum's members met in Atlanta on Nov. 15-16 and then spent several weeks drafting its recommendations. In essence, the forum concluded:

  • The Southern pine currently in stock doesn't need to be reviewed because the vast majority of it is stronger than existing standards and because construction techniques typically are conservative enough to not overly stress the wood.
  • Given there's no compelling need for ALSC to move quickly, "Instead, it is important to act prudently to ensure that sound science prevails in the data collection and analysis before revising design values."
  • There should be only one change in design values, if justified.
  • All Southern pine grades and sizes should be tested before making recommendations on changing any of them. (This stems from the fact that all testing to date has involved solely 2x4s.)
  • The 2x4 sampling and anlysis work should be revisited and expanded.
  • The option for visually graded "dense" Southern pine should be maintained.
  • SPIB's Technical Committee "needs broader involvement to include other key stakeholders to analyze and evaluate other grade rule alternatives."
  • SPIB and ALSC should adopt a "change management process" that provides for an orderly transition to new values that "will reduce impacts on both producers and end users. The proposed process is more transparent, inclusive and allows for stakeholder input and review."

The report described itself as representing the views of the entire group and noted that some individual opinions on the various subjects could vary. It didn't include any dissenting remarks.