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Hats Off to an Urban Wood Pioneer

By Rich Christianson

For those of us who think the concept of converting dead or dying urban trees into valuable lumber is a 21st century construct, think again.

I literally stumbled upon this YouTube video of a Sept. 17, 1993 report from ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. In fact, I was only the second viewer when I did so. It’s about George Hessenthaler of Salt Lake City, UT. He was inspired to start Uniquest Industries, a business focused on turning logs destined for landfills into value-added lumber.

Soon after the ABC News report aired Hessenthaler renamed his enterprise more aptly Urban Forest Wood Works and moved it to nearby Logan.

Talk about an urban wood pioneer!

In an October 2001 report, “Utilizing Municipal Trees: Ideas from Across the Country,” Stephen Bratkovich, then with the U.S. Forest Service and now a consultant/project manager with Dovetail Partners of St. Paul, MN, attributed the following quote to Hessenthaler: “Anything made from wood can be from urban forest wood.”

A May 2013 article in the Logan Herald Journal noted that Hessenthaler was then observing his 25th anniversary of repurposing otherwise discarded urban wood. A former public relations man turned cabinetmaker turned sawyer, Hessenthaler estimated that he had sawn 500,000 board feet of lumber from more than 20 difference species of urban forest trees.

I think this quote from the Herald Journal’s interview with Hessenthaler sums up why so many groups are springing up across the country, including the Illinois Wood Utilization Team, dedicated to creating a sustainable market place for urban wood. “A tree grown in the city, after it’s given its 50, 60, 80 years of shade and comfort and pleasure is greeted with a horrible demise because it’s cut into chunks and burned, or taken to the dump, and I think it has a higher and better use. It has a greater destiny than being cut into firewood, so I hope a customer, when he or she buys a box will realize it’s been made out of a tree that would have otherwise been dumped in the landfill.”

Right on, George!



Blogs

03/23/21 – Bringing New Life to Fallen Urban Trees

03/14/21 – Chicago City Council Debates Urban Forestry Advisory Board to Address Declining Tree Population

03/09/21 – Urban Wood Italian Style

11/29/20 – Iowa Derecho: So Many Trees Lost, So Little Wood Saved

09/25/20 – ‘Save Your Ash Tree’ Campaign Comes to My Hood

08/24/20 – Chicago Woodworker Inspired by Urban Wood

05/30/20 – Video: Fabled 600-Year-Old Oak Stars in Documentary

04/23/20 – Craft Beer with a Hint of Urban Sawdust

03/27/20 – Oh No! Coronavirus!

02/27/20 – Grinnell College’s Felled Walnut Trees Graduate into Benches

12/09/19 – EAB’s Path of Destruction Continues to Widen

11/24/19 – Urban Wood Use Gets Thumbs Up in the Land Down Under

10/09/19 – How Frank Lloyd Wright Home Trees Became Furniture

07/30/19 – Add Your Voice in Support of ‘OAKtober’

07/28/19 – How to Get Your Urban Wood Business Featured

04/30/19 – TCIA Personalities in the News

03/29/19 – Aloha State’s Got Urban Wood

02/25/19 – Can Certification Drive Urban Wood Lumber Demand?

01/31/19 – Urban Wood Network Dues a Bargain

01/21/19 – A Look Back at 2018’s Most Viewed Posts

12/29/19 – Urban Wood Toolkit Webinar

11/29/18 – Share Your Urban Wood Success Stories, Photos, Videos, Etc.

11/28/18 – What’s That Urban Log Worth?

10/31/18 – Greater West Town Celebrates 25 Years!

10/22/18 – How Much Is Your Log Worth?

10/13/18 – After the Storm, Call on the Urban Forest Strike Team

09/30/18 – Making the Transition from Teaching to Running an Urban Wood Business

09/22/18 – Tom The Sawyer Examines ‘The Cost of Lumber’

08/29/18 – IWF Urban Wood Seminar Delivered with a Tinge of Irony

07/26/18 – Part One of ‘How To Urban Wood’ Webinar Series Sells Out

06/26/18 – Woodworking Industry Takes Notice of Urban Wood Movement

05/23/18 – Researchers Sound the Alarm on Urban Tree Loss

04/25/18 – Urban Wood Movement Takes Woodworking Industry’s Biggest Stage in Atlanta

03/29/18 – Sign Up for Free Urban Wood Network Webinar

02/27/18 – Icon Modern Hosts Architectural Woodworkers

01/25/18 – Arts Initiative Pays Homage to Chicago Park District Trees

12/30/17 – Join the Urban Wood Network

12/22/17 – And the Most Viewed Urban Wood Stories of 2017 Are …

11/21/17 – Come Feel the Heat! ISTC Wood Waste Boiler Demo

11/13/17 – Grand Rapids Tree Awards Create Urban Wood Plot Lines

11/07/17 – Every Urban Tree Tells a Story, Got One to Share?

10/27/17 – Tree ‘Cookies’ Make Nifty Award Plaques

09/29/17 – Spurned Woodworker Turns to Toronto for Urban Ash Lumber

08/24/17 – Update: House Supports Urban Forestry Funding

07/26/17 – Check It Out: UrbanWoodNetwork.org is Up & Running!

07/03/17 – Pacific Coast Lumber Owner Has His Urban Wood Elevator Speech Down Pat

06/27/17 – Discover Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Urban Wood Scene!

05/27/17 – Duluth’s EAB Plan Promotes Wood Use; Does Your City Do the Same?

01/02/17 – IllinoisUrbanWood’s Top 10 Countdown

12/12/16 – Book Chronicles Urban ‘Wood to Table’ Movement

11/13/16 – IL WUT’s Global Reach

09/14/16 – Let’s Make Urban Wood a Household Name

07/26/16 – IWF Urban Wood Seminar Sponsors Help Spread the ‘Word’

05/21/16 – Great News! Urban Wood Shines in WI Hotel Makeover

02/15/16 – Thank You Urban Wood Conference Supporters!

01/28/16 – Daily Double Discount: Hardwood Lumber & Urban Forest Events

11/29/15 – Five Top Reasons to Sponsor the Bringing the Urban Forestry Full Circle Conference

10/29/15 – Keep Spreading the News!

09/23/15 – Woodworking Enthusiasts Get a Taste of Urban Wood

08/25/15 – Historic Bell Tolls for Urban Wood Display

06/23/15 – Photo Gallery: Color Point Greenhouse Operations

06/14/15 – Color Point Pushes Sustainable Wood Usage with Wood-Fired Greenhouse

06/05/15 – Hats Off to an Urban Wood Pioneer



Bringing New Life to Fallen Urban Trees

Cities in the United States could plant an estimated 400 million trees, making them an essential player in tree restoration. Photo by Vladimir Kudinov/Unsplash

By Todd Gartner and Ben Christensen

The city is a difficult place for a tree to survive. Compared to their counterparts in the countryside, urban trees generally get less water, suffer more intense heat, compete for space with unyielding infrastructure and frequently become riddled with disease and pests. As a result, many cities are stuck with a lot of dead trees every year.

Cities and private contractors cut them down and usually turn them into firewood, mulch or haul them to the landfill. Often, cities replant fewer trees than they remove, leading to a net loss in canopy cover over time.

However, these trees don’t have to go to waste. “Reforestation hubs” are an exciting model that will save these trees from landfills and instead find new uses for them, such as repurposing for furniture or flooring. This can help cities deal with dead trees while saving money, creating new jobs, addressing long-term public health goals and mitigating climate change at scale.

The Urban Wood Opportunity
Restoring trees to the United States landscape offers big benefits for the climate and communities alike. The scale of the opportunity is staggering: landscapes across the United States alone could support 60 billion new trees. This would sequester up to 540 million tons of CO2 per year – equivalent to replacing 117 million gasoline cars with electric vehicles running on clean electricity. The United States could plant an estimated 400 million of these trees in cities. Capturing this opportunity will take financial resources and concerted effort by a variety of public and private partners.

While waiting for government funding or voluntary private sector finance to kick in at a meaningful scale, cities across the country hold a massive and untapped resource. However, this resource is going to waste – literally.

Every year, 36 million trees come down in cities across the United States due to old age, disease and new development, resulting in economic losses of up to $786 million each year. Much of this wood could become valuable products, but instead often gets chipped, thrown in a landfill or burned as firewood. Rethinking urban wood waste could be an unexpected climate and economic solution, turning a burden on the climate and city budgets into a financial engine for reforestation across the broader landscape.

This opportunity is the impetus for the concept of reforestation hubs, pioneered by Cambium CarbonCities4Forests and the Arbor Day Foundation, which will be working with city officials to create the nation’s first reforestation hubs by 2022 through a TNC Natural Climate Change Solutions Accelerator Grant.

What is a Reforestation Hub?
In their simplest form, reforestation hubs are public-private partnerships that save cities money and generate revenue to plant and maintain more trees by diverting downed urban trees from landfills. Instead of going to waste, downed trees are sorted and turned into their highest and best use like furniture, cross-laminated timber, lumber, flooring, compost or mulch. This saves cities money and generates revenue to plant and maintain more trees, building a vibrant circular economy and allowing cities to better combat climate change. In the process, reforestation hubs also support public health and economic growth by creating jobs in green infrastructure through employing people at mills, nurseries and new planting initiatives.

Despite the value urban wood can provide, critical obstacles stand in the way of utilizing them. Cities lack the infrastructure to make fallen trees valuable, and wood product supply chains are not structured around urban wood products. Addressing these two gaps is the first step in creating a functioning reforestation hub. Doing so will require investments in sort yards and mill infrastructure to process incoming wood waste, bringing together city officials, urban millers, artisans, furniture makers, biochar facilities and composting operations. Additionally, it will require building value chains that connect these urban wood ecosystems to the broader market.

Urban wood champions are chipping away at this vision, but with slow progress. Building a reforestation hub requires immense collaboration, and urban wood is a complex raw material to build consistent supply chains around. Reforestation hubs break this log jam by bringing together four ingredients:

  1. City-level commitments to divert wood from city agency and contractor operations, buy urban wood for city operations and establish long-term planting plans.
  2. Private finance from philanthropic and impact investors for necessary infrastructure.
  3. A market incubation platform that drives consumer awareness and leverages technology to connect buyers and sellers.
  4. A social impact mission that reinvests profits from the new urban wood economy into tree planting in reforestation hub cities and the surrounding landscapes.

This vision builds on the work of the Baltimore Wood Project, which creates furniture and other high-value products from dead urban trees and reclaimed lumber from houses facing demolition. Baltimore created a network of suppliers and buyers of reclaimed lumber and invested heavily in Camp Small, a sort yard that can process their existing waste stream and turn it into value.

Growing New Opportunities for City Trees
Reforestation hubs not only bring value through using dead trees, but by creating a path for planting new trees in cities. This comes with numerous public health benefits, including purifying air and water, helping to reduce respiratory disease and decreasing heat. Trees also increase storm water retention to ease stress on city sewer systems.

Tree canopy health often follows wealth and racial lines in cities, depriving underserved communities of these benefits. Reforestation hubs, by applying the principles of tree equity, can provide funds to improve tree health and plant more trees that benefit these communities. They can also provide new employment opportunities through the markets created for previously under-utilized urban wood.

Making the Most of Fallen Trees
With the financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, cities may face pressure to defer tree maintenance and replanting, despite the many benefits urban trees provide. At the same time, well-planned reforestation holds the potential to improve the respiratory health of residents and increased urban tree canopies can help cities meet their climate goals. Reforestation hubs offer a multitude of benefits, building new revenue to help fund tree care and planting as well as providing a path to financing broader tree work in cities. As a result, reforestation hubs have immense potential to become economic, public health and climate boons for cities in the face of intersecting crises.

Stay up to date on this exciting work and encourage your city to join the movement here.

This blog was originally published on WRI’s Insights.

Todd Gartner is the director of Cities4Forests and WRI’s Natural Infrastructure Initiative.

Ben Christensen is a former carbon removal research intern at World Resources Institute.

 



USDA Forest Service Awards Urban Forestry Challenge Grants

USDA-Urban-ForestryAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the 2016 USDA Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge grant recipients. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $900,000 in funding to four goal recipients who will demonstrate how healthy urban forests can increase public health benefits, improve development and redevelopment efforts, and contribute to urban food production

“Urban forests are integral to strong, vital, and healthy communities, enriching the lives of the more than 80 percent of Americans who live in cities and towns,” Vilsack said. “The grants announced today will make important strides in innovative research and community projects that will help keep our urban forests valuable contributors to our daily lives.”

Forest Chief Tom Tidwell said, “As our urban communities grow and  confront rapid development and climate change, urban trees will be more important than ever by  providing  rich habitats, capturing storm water and helping provide clean air and water. The grant recipients will help to improve the public’s health, well-being and create resilient ecosystems for present and future generations.”

The grant recipients, whose work will highlight the economic and social value of urban forests, are committing an additional $1.1 million to their projects bringing the total investment through this project to $2 million.

In the United States alone, urban trees store over 708 million tons of carbon, which is equivalent to the annual carbon emissions from about 500 million automobiles. Urban trees help further reduce emissions by lowering electricity demand for summer air conditioning and winter heating. Well-maintained urban forests can help address climate and extreme weather impacts by reducing storm water runoff, buffering high winds, controlling erosion and minimizing the impacts of drought. Urban forests also provide critical social and cultural benefits providing places for people to recreate and gather with their communities.

The U.S. Forest Service, together with many partners, plays a pivotal role in ensuring urban and community forests continue to provide their life enriching benefits. In partnership with state forestry agencies, the Forest Service helps over 7,000 communities to plan, manage, and grow urban forests through the Urban and Community Forestry Program and the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council’s Ten Year Action Plan.

The 2016 grant recipients and amounts are:

State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry,

A Decision Support System to Develop, Analyze, and Optimize Urban and Community Forests: $285,340 to create a decision support system for i-­Tree Landscape to allow forest managers and planners to achieve desired benefits and service from urban and community forests. Developed by the Forest Service, i-Tree is a ground-breaking interactive web tool helping communities identify and make the most of their urban trees.

Earth Learning Inc., Community Food Forestry Initiative: $175,627

to address tree canopy loss due to re-development by providing planners, decision-makers, and designers  with a comprehensive set of resources to integrate food-producing trees and plants into the urban landscape.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dept. of Recreation, Sport and Tourism, Urban Forestry’s Return On Investment Tying Residential Nature To Health Care Expenditures: $278,383 to document the effects of urban and community forests on health care savings by examining the impacts of urban forests on major U.S. population groups, particularly the underserved, giving the findings direct relevance to communities across the nation.

Georgia State University, The Impact of Natural Environments on Symptom Expression in Children with Autism$160,650 to research the impact of nature on symptom severity in children with autism. A “Lessons Learned” document will provide best practices for working with children with autism.

For more information about the National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge grant recipients, please visit www.fs.fed.us/ucf/nucfac.html.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender.