Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay prof takes on little-known tree research

He got his first toolbox around the age of five, and now a Lakehead University professor is channeling his lifelong passion for wood into efforts to expand the forest industry.

Lakehead University research hopes mapping project will help expand forest industry

Lakehead professor Mathew Leitch cuts some wood using a portable sawmill. In his quest to help the forest industry thrive, he is working on a mapping project that will help companies better see where the trees they require are located in northwestern Ontario. (Supplied)

He got his first toolbox around the age of five, and now a Lakehead University professor is channeling his lifelong passion for wood into efforts to grow the forest industry.

Mathew Leitch, who teaches in the Faculty of Natural Resources Management, is mapping northwestern Ontario to show companies exactly where to find the type — and quality — of tree they need.

Mathew Leitch is and associate professor with Lakehead University's faculty of Natural Resources Management Wood Science and Forest Products. (Supplied )

"The main goal of the mapping was to get a better idea of what the inherent properties of our trees are," he said. "Surprisingly that sort of research hasn't been done."

Leitch said that knowledge, particularly identifying the differing strengths of specific trees, will make companies around the world more efficient and competitive.

'Point them in the right direction'

His mapping project focuses on making the most of certain types of wood and will show they can be used in existing and new products "particularly for underutilized trees like birch and larch and black ash."

"If you go into low-lying areas you're going to find different properties in, for example, a birch tree than if you take a birch of an upper ridge," Leitch said.

"We've created the maps that show that. So if a company comes in and says ‘we have this requirement for our products,’ we can point them in the direction where that resource is — and even who has the licences and where on that licence exactly they will find the quality they require."

Leitch said he hopes the mapping project will help attract companies to the region.

Much of his research focused on creating "value-added" wood products, including things like "thermally modified wood," which is treated with heat to make it stronger.

His interest in wood can be seen in the myriad of wooden items that he owns, including tree samples from all over the world and a wooden lunchbox. Even his business cards are printed on wood.

"The logo for my lab is 'wood is good,’ and hence my office if full of wood," he said. "Right down to a wooden keyboard."