When Mark Stella talks about some of Oregon’s hardwood trees, his voice gets a little softer and dreamier.
Describing madrone, which he calls “one of the more interesting and charismatic of all the woods,” Stella’s description brings to mind a feast more than a forest. “The sheen is like butter,” he said. “It’s got these magnificent colors: coffee brown, burgundy, salmon pink, and warm cream.”
Stella owns Green Mountain Woodworks, a Phoenix, Ore., company specializing in environmentally preferred hardwood flooring and furniture. Although the company sells Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified cherry, eastern maple, red oak, and yellow birch, its primary focus is on lesser-known Northwest hardwoods.
Creating a market for more diverse wood products can help small landowners cultivate healthy forests, Stella said. The traditional Northwest timber industry focused on abundant softwoods like the Douglas fir, he said. Early investors spent millions of dollars on softwood-friendly mill saws and drying kilns, which ruined denser and slower-drying native hardwoods. “The wood would twist and crack,” Stella explained. “Therefore, there’s some species that aren’t known out there in the world of hardwoods.”
Now, Stella is working to make the hardwoods known — and coveted. He compared the effort to the local food movement. FSC certification, like organics, can help consumers choose responsible basic woods, but diverse local woods build ecosystem diversity and support predominately small, family foresters, he said. To help consumers identify the environmental practices used for each wood, Green Mountain uses six “EcoStatus” categories to describe where the wood was sourced from.
Stella first got interested in unique Northwest species while volunteering at the environmental education center at Opal Creek, near Detroit, Ore. What began as a sabbatical from his job as a product developer in Boston turned into a love affair with old-growth forests and the mill towns that manage them. So, Stella turned his attention from industrial products to wood products.
Restoration forestry requires ingenious solutions, such as figuring out how to remove built-up scrub plants, Stella said. The latest product in Green Mountain’s catalog is gourmet barbeque smoking woods. Made from manzanita, a highly flammable hardwood bush similar to mesquite, “it has this kind of smoky chocolate flavor with a little bit of a nutty fruity thing to it,” Stella said.