Urban Lumber

By Delaware Center for Horticulture
Wilmington, DE (October 1, 2008)- Trees are cut down in Wilmington every day. What happens to these fallen soldiers? In many municipalities, trees are simply treated as garbage. It was estimated for 1994 that 30 million cubic yards of whole logs found their way to landfills. That equals three to four billion sawn board feet of lumber, completely gone to waste. Had there been effective urban lumber and green waste programs in place, that lumber could have been used for all types of projects with profits going to municipalities, sawyers, and woodworkers.


There are ways to save valuable trees from such a fate. Many states, cities, and towns have jumped on the urban lumber bandwagon and have developed programs to provide free and low-cost urban lumber to artists and manufacturers. Sam Sherrill has written an extensive book on the whole subject titled Harvesting Urban Timber: A Complete Guide. Urban forests cleanse our air, protect our water, reduce home energy use, and add natural beauty. But when trees come down, they need not become waste.
Components of a plan
The components of an effective tree waste utilization plan are numerous. An inventory of trees and potential buyers can provide information on possible markets. With regards to scale, systems that rely on single logs being picked up from a variety of areas are inefficient. Infrastructure has to be developed to allow for residues to be collected, sorted, efficiently as possible from a variety of public and private ownerships. Good infrastructure can also save on transportation costs. As much of this work should be completed in advance, as in the case of large-scale infestation, the timeline set for tree removals is quite short.
Strategies of a plan
Once the components-or challenges-of developing a cost-effective tree removal and utilization plan are understood, the next step is to develop a set of strategies. The following strategies are based on interviews, focus groups and personal experiences encountered in the Midwest, primarily as a result of the spread of the emerald ash borer.
* Contact local stakeholders immediately to develop a thorough outline of needs, available resources, limitations, partners, and timelines.
* Develop a list of potential wood processors and survey them to gauge interest.
* Survey interested wood product producers further to gain idea of specifics. Develop contact lists (directory) to give to municipalities, tree service firms and other generators of wood residues.
* Analyze opportunities to use the removed wood in new and/or alternative markets.
* Use wood utilization, where appropriate, as a means to reduce tree removal costs.
* Create collection yards for wood residues.
* Don’t underestimate the importance of developing methods for sorting wood residues.
* Create effective compliance agreements and safe avenues for moving clean wood products by encouraging ongoing discussions between industry and federal and state regulatory agencies.
* Create a strong educational/communication plan.
* Train arborists, tree removal crews, and local wood processors on proper felling and bucking of trees.
* Conduct a tree inventory.
* Support growth of locally driven markets for urban wood and build public demand for products.
* If possible, fund demonstration projects to showcase community utilization projects.
* Facilitate ongoing dialogue between producers, processors, regulatory agencies, and recycling centers by creating strong networking systems.
* Learn from the experiences of other communities.
* If possible, find ways to link profits or savings generated through wood utilization to enhanced public forestry programs.
Following these basic steps could put Wilmington well on its way to developing a useful and effective tree removal utilization program that could help the environment and save money.
Plans in action
New Jersey Forestry Services has purchased their own portable mill that is used exclusively to cut urban logs. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) purchased its own portable sawmills and portable kilns. Inside California, CDF rents this equipment to local governments, non-profit organizations, and private firms willing to explore new entrepreneurial ventures. The students at Palomar Community College in San Diego County are using one of the mills at their school to earn professional certificates in wood-milling. Citlogs of Pittstown, NJ is a company that will take care of every aspect of urban tree removal and recycling from felling to transportation to manufacture.
Building materials produced by Citilogs can come with LEED certification, and all of their products are certified by the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood Program which guarantees that the product you order is created from sustainable sources and all wood products are made utilizing environmentally-friendly methods.
Earlier this year, Kerns Brothers Tree Care Company, here in Wilmington, donated sizable portions of a large White Oak they removed to the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation to be used to for restoration of the full-size replica ship. In response to the prevalent Emerald Ash Borer problem, The Chicago Furniture Designers Association has developed a traveling exhibit of furniture made from some of the millions of fallen Ash trees in Illinois.
More local work
Here in Wilmington, Dave Rickerman of Rickerman Tree Service is making the most of felled trees. For 25 years, he has almost every tree he cuts down sent to a mill instead of the garbage pile. This results in a lesser environmental impact, and he uses the sale of the logs to cover some of his costs. And, he says, that his customers are always happy to hear that the wood will be utilized instead of wasted. There are a couple of mills in the area. Glatfelter’s in Spring Grove, PA, uses the lowest-quality logs for paper pulp. This is where most of the diseased trees cut down along Bancroft Parkway were sent.
Zook’s in Quarryville, PA uses low to medium quality logs to make palettes and boards used for pouring concrete. Weaber in Lebanon, PA sells high-quality wood to furniture makers. Dave also sometimes takes logs to Hearne Hardwoods in Oxford, PA., who make furniture, guitars, and other products out of dozens of species of common and exotic wood. Clearly, there are enough mills in the area to take all quality levels of logs, and Dave takes full advantage.
This all goes to show that there are options for trees cut down in Wilmington. Not all of them have to go to the dump. Ask the arborist performing work on your tree where they take the debris. If they plan on dumping it, try persuading them to at least have the wood shredded for mulch. It is such a shame that trees are resting in garbage heaps alongside mounds of used diapers and Styrofoam cups.
Related Resources:
Wilmington Tree Press- Urban Lumber
From the Ash Tree and Into Furniture
The Giving Tree