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Timber companies fear for supplies: “Neue Holzbau AG” calls alarm

Swiss Association of Certified Quality Houses (VGQ) Weitere Infos:
Raphael Bühlmann

Actually, much more wood could be cut down in Switzerland. But the development is going in a different direction. Companies like the “Neue Holzbau AG” in Lungern are worried about supplies.

The Swiss forest has already seen better days. No, we are not talking about nutrient inputs, bark beetles or a mysterious forest decline. In the present case, human influence also has nothing to do with the misery - on the contrary. The Swiss forest is underused. According to the Swiss Forest Industry Association, annual wood consumption is around 11 million cubic meters. In Switzerland, 7 to 8 million cubic meters could actually be harvested sustainably – actually only 4.5 million cubic meters are used. The result: many stocks are over-aeging, become uninteresting for processing and the forest grows and grows - here in Switzerland by 5,400 hectares annually, the area of Lake Thun.

Sascha Abplanalp draws a sobering conclusion: "The problem is that the harvest hardly pays off for the forest owners. Abplanalp is managing director of the “Neue Holzbau AG” in Lungern and fears that in the distant future he will no longer be able to obtain enough Swiss timber to meet his needs. According to Abplanalp, the reasons for underutilization are complex. First of all, there is the extraordinarily long period from investment to profit. "Who invests in a young forest will only yield a profit in a few decades' time," says Abplanalp. He therefore advocates the planting of fast-growing, alternative woods such as the Douglas fir.

Contribution to decentralized colonization

But the spirit of the time is currently a different one. "Today, in densely populated Switzerland, the forest is primarily understood as a leisure, recreation and nature reserve. The use is completely forgotten," says Abplanalp. A use that, for example, already has a competitive disadvantage compared to imports from Scandinavia for topographical reasons. Abplanalp's “Neue Holzbau AG“ is a good example of this. Surrounded by the steepest, rocky mountain slopes half way to the Brünigpass, forest management is a real challenge here. On slopes where no full harvesters are used and cable cars or even helicopters have to be used, the harvest becomes expensive. For timber builder Abplanalp it is therefore clear: "We have to counteract development. Wood is the only building material in Switzerland that grows back in large quantities and is also climate-neutral. It is nothing less than the existence of a whole branch of industry. Now that more and more forest owners have given up their forest management in recent years, it is clear that investment in sawmills is stagnating. "A dangerous development; we must have the entire timber chain in Switzerland and ensure that there are no gaps in the wood processing process".

According to Abplanalp, this development is also of socio-political interest. Every time a forestry or sawmill closes, important jobs disappear. Together with agriculture, the timber industry is largely responsible for decentralized settlement. For example, the “Neue Holzbau AG” is also a major employer in Lungern. Sascha Abplanalp: "Lungern is not a disadvantage. For us, the location represents one of the best catchment areas for the recruitment of skilled workers". The company offers a total of 60 jobs, including some planners and engineers, in external offices in German-speaking Switzerland and Ticino. "No matter how well we equip ourselves with machines and systems, the most important thing remains the person who creates such components," says Abplanalp, pointing in the production hall in Lungern to a bridge structure with impressive dimensions of 30 by 5 meters. The connections of the lattice bars are sought in vain. Neither screws nor nail plates are visible.

"Our secret is the company-owned GSA technology. Threaded rods glued into the wood with epoxy resin enable us to connect wood components efficiently and practically invisibly," reveals Abplanalp. The system has been tested up to the load limit and beyond. "The connection is designed so that the weakest point is in the steel threaded rod. This allows us to optimally dimension and utilize the connection".

Among the customers of the “Neue Holzbau AG” are woodworkers who have such custom-made products produced in Lungern. "We do not assemble ourselves. Our focus is on the delivery of load-bearing structures including the associated services," says Abplanalp. The technology is in demand far beyond national borders. Recently, constructions have been delivered to England, Australia or Norway. But as well in Switzerland many smaller and larger projects are being realized, such as the new hangar of Pilatus aircraft factory, which was also largely built with Swiss wood.

Picture: Manuela Jans-Koch (27. März 2019)

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