Norway Spruce is a softwood species that's native to Europe, not the United States. But in the 1930s, billions of Norway Spruce saplings were planted in the Northeast U.S. by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Those trees are now mature, and in principle, they should be part of the North American timber resource.

In Europe, Norway Spruce is accepted as dimensional framing lumber. But the U.S. trees have never been through the formal strength testing needed to establish the wood's official design values for acceptance by building codes. Now, however, that testing is underway at the University of Maine in Orono. The Bangor Daily News has a report (see: "UMaine breaks boards to test Norway spruce for US market," by Nick McCrea).

"Researchers at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center are breaking about 1,320 boards cut from trees harvested in Maine, Vermont, Wisconsin and four sections of New York state," the Daily News reports. "They’re using hydraulic machines and pressure sensors to test the breaking point of the boards. That data will be passed on to the American Lumber Standards Committee, according to Russell Edgar, wood composites manager at the center. That committee ultimately will decide whether the Norway spruce makes the cut and should be added to the list of approved construction-grade lumber."

The work is inspired by the Northeast Lumber Manufacturers Association (NELMA), according to a report on the NELMA website (see: "Breaking Norway!"). "About 3 years ago NELMA’s dimension lumber manufacturing membership first discussed the aspect of Norway Spruce and the increasing sense that the species could be an added timber resource for the industry," the website says. "The initial research drawn from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) estimated around 2.1 billion board feet of standing sawtimber volume scattered within 13 states, all located in the Northeastern and Great Lakes region. The state of New York contains a little over 50% of this estimated volume, with the vast majority of all states’ volume the result of plantings by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930’s Great Depression. Reclaiming abandoned agriculture farmland back to forestland was the goal of this CCC program at the time. Those stands range from 5 acres to more than 100 acres and have reached maturity after 70-80 years of growth. Commercial planting of the species continued in the decades following the CCC days largely for pulp fiber; a decision based on its robust growth characteristics in the short northern climate. Planting the species continues today in various areas of the northeast."

The University of Maine at Orono was a natural choice to conduct the wood sample testing and engineering analysis: "“We’re very excited to do this type of work and assist industry in the state, region, country and beyond. It’s right in our wheelhouse,” said Maine professor Russell Edgar (see: "UMaine tests Norway spruce to see if it makes the cut for construction").