THE DEADLY BEETLE THAT LAUNCHED THE URBAN WOOD MOVEMENT
The emerald ash borer has an insatiable appetite for the inner bark of ash trees.
Since these stowaways from Asia were discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2001, the deadly bugs have migrated to east, west, north and south. They have left tens of millions of ash trees dead in their wake — not only in public and private forests but parks, parkways and backyards.
Illinois is among the many states that has given up even trying to stop the EAB after seeing it as an unwinnable war. Illinois once had 131 million ash trees. Before the EAB’s scourge, 20% of Chicago area street trees were ash, a percentage that is steadily shrinking.
The management focus of the urban forest has shifted beyond prevention to utilization and in the process spawning the urban wood movement. By using the wood from dead community trees, we can give the trees a new life, creating good from an unfortunate situation. Because the EAB feeds only on the inner bark of trees, the wood is unharmed.
While there have long been businesses involved in milling urban trees into lumber, the EAB invasion has shined a bright light on the potential to produce high-quality lumber from other tree species removed from urban forests at the end of their service. A past survey by the U.S. Forest Service, estimated that reclaimed wood from all dead and diseased community trees could equal 3.8 billion board feet or nearly 30% of annual hardwood consumption in the United States.