Category: Blogs

Most Popular Posts of 2021

A milling project undertaken by the Chicago Park District last winter was the second most viewed post of 2021.

As we prepare for what I hope will be a healthy, prosperous and fingers-crossed, post-pandemic 2022, we take a look at the stories posted on IllinoisUrbanWood that garnered the most eyeballs in 2021.

Thanks to all for you interest in furthering the Urban Wood Movement here in Illinois and beyond. 

Happy New Year!

Rich Christianson
Editor & Publisher

1

Chicago City Council Debates Urban Forestry Advisory Board to Address Declining Tree Population
I
n 2019, the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General released a report highlighting ways in which the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Bureau of Forestry could improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their tree-trimming program.

2

Slideshow: Chicago Park District’s Wintry Milling Project
The Chicago Park District’s Department of Cultural and Natural Resources team recently initiated lumber milling at the West Ridge Natural Area.

 

3

House Bill Includes ‘Cooperative Agreements’ for Urban Wood Utilization
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) has introduced the Urban Forest Act of 2021, which includes provisions for incentivizing urban wood utilization.

4

Invitation to Learn About the New IL Chapter of Urban Wood Network
Erika Horigan announces the first meeting of the Urban Wood Network-Illinois Chapter.

5

Urban Wood Italian Style
Franco Paolinelli of Silvicultura Agrocultura Paesaggio, reports on urban wood projects in Rome, Italy. 

6

Watch Black Oak Go from Logs to Table
Video shows the key stages of three huge logs from a felled black oak being repurposed into tables.

7

Video: Restoration Research of the American Chestnut Part 1
Part 1 of this two-part video program focuses on the historical significance of the American chestnut, its dominance in eastern U.S. forests and its quick and fatal decline to chestnut blight disease.

8

How Harrisonburg, VA, Upscales Dead Ash Trees
Harrisonburg, VA, home to 54,000 people and the annual Gr8 Film Festival, is also serious about repurposing its ash trees victimized by the emerald ash borer.

9

American Hardwoods Focus of New Free Guide
A Guide to Sustainable American Hardwoods was recently issued by the American Hardwood Export Council.

10

UK Researchers Search for EAB-Resistant Trees
Researchers at the University of Kentucky hope to use the seed and genetic material from lingering ash trees for breeding programs and research purposes to develop ash trees that confer some resistance to the emerald ash borer.



NTBC Says My Sycamore Is Worth $371 A Year; How About Your Trees?

By Rich Christianson

According to the National Tree Benefit Calculator the 75-inch-diameter American sycamore tree gracing parkway of my northside Chicago home — and flooding my gutters each fall with leaves — “provides overall benefits of $371 every year.”

The Beta test calculator was conceived and developed by Casey Trees and Davey Tree Expert Co. According to the website, “The Tree Benefit Calculator allows anyone to make a simple estimation of the benefits individual street-side trees provide. This tool is based on i-Tree’s street tree assessment tool called STREETS. With inputs of location, species and tree size, users will get an understanding of the environmental and economic value trees provide on an annual basis.”

According to the calculator, my sycamore generates $99 more in annual benefits than the silver maple I grew up with in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, but $61 less than my neighbor’s oak tree. 

Here’s a snapshot that breaks down my sycamore’s value.

You can calculate your tree’s benefits here: But you better hurry, according to the website, the calculator will be discontinued at the end of this year. 



Fall for ‘Felled’ This Holiday Season

Felled: A Documentary Film About Giving New Life to Fallen Urban Trees is available for on-demand viewing.

Tiny Chair Productions offers this description of its 57-minute documentary: “Felled is a story about finding worth and beauty in something most consider to be trash. The film chronicles the journey of an urban pine tree downed by a summer storm and saved from the landfill by two woodworkers who give the tree new meaning as a family dinner table. Through interviews with industry experts, sawyers, arborists, artists, and woodworkers, including both Norm Abram and Nick Offerman, the film highlights the growing urban lumber movement and explores themes of waste, craftsmanship, and redemption.

Felled is available online to rent for $1.99 or purchase for $9.00. Check out the trailer provided here.

 



Video: Quebec City’s Cannonball Tree’s Last Stand

By Rich Christianson

I’ve seen and heard of my share of bullets lodged in trees that were discovered during the milling process. But, a cannonball? 

Indeed, an American elm in Quebec City earned the nickname “Cannonball Tree” because of the bowling ball-sized object clearly visible in its roots. 

Sadly, the tree was removed in March because it was dying. But before it could be cut down, a military demolition team was called in to make sure the object would not explode.  

While legend had it that the object was a cannonball from the pre-Revolutionary War times, it was upon further evaluation determined to be a “fire bomb” that was purposely placed in the tree’s base to protect the corner of a building from being clipped by horse-drawn carriages.

The tree was ultimately removed to preserve its trunk with plans to turn it into a work of art.

 

 



Author Spins a Wonderful Tale about Repurposing Her Dying Black Walnut

InsideHook author Claire Young with a slice of “Sally,” the 70-foot black walnut that was converted into valuable lumber after it was removed from her backyard.

Here’s a great narrative about urban wood utilization written by Claire Young for InsideHook: “How to Turn the Dead Tree in Your Yard into a Wooden Heirloom.”

Young goes into impressive detail to explain how a dying 70-foot black walnut tree her family named Sally was removed, milled and converted into an heirloom table.

Young contracted the services of Adrian Plante, owner of Wood Urban Design in Crystal Lake, IL. In addition to its professional arborist services, WUD operates a portable sawmill to convert logs from removed trees into lumber and wood products.

In her article, Young offers a variety of useful tips for homeowners looking to “scavenge” wood from their dearly departed trees. She also goes through the urban tree conversion process from removal through milling options and discusses how she took up woodworking as a COVID-19 hobby.

It’s a fun read that should inspire like-minded homeowners to put their dead trees to a higher purpose. 

 



Invitation to Learn About the New Illinois Chapter of Urban Wood Network

I invite you to attend this meeting to join the discussion of what comes next for Illinois and urban wood. I will share why Illinois became a Chapter of UWN. In addition, I will be joined by Kari Devine of the Urban Wood Network. She will provide information about UWN membership benefits including branding, marketing, and educational resources.

The meeting will take place from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday, September 20.

Please register in advance to attend.

Hello Illinois Urban Wood supporters:

Please join us in an upcoming Zoom meeting to learn about the new Illinois Chapter of the Urban Wood Network (UWN).

Illinois has a long history of utilizing the resource of urban wood and we recently became a member of this larger UWN national movement.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Best regards,

Erika Horigan
Horigan Urban Forest Products, Inc.
Urban Wood Network, Illinois




Romans participate in a didactic urban wood event

Rome Urban Wood WorkshopBY RICH CHRISTIANSON

Franco Paolinelli, who has become our de facto Italian correspondent, shared some info and photos from a recent community event at which some 30 kids got to enjoy the tactile sensation of making things with wood. It was the first of three planned community urban wood workshops in Rome.

“Since 2018 our proposal o conduct ‘Laboratori del Legno Degli Alberi di Roma’ i.e. Roman urban wood workshops, is acquiring popularity,” said Paolinelli, a professional arborist. “In Rome. we have a tree pest, Ailanthus altissima, (tree of heaven, an exotic invasive species) growing all over where maintenance lacks. One interesting result is its wood is great for workshops.

“I collect pruning remains in arboricultural jobs, asking arborist firms to cut them in 30-40 cm long, 3-6 cm in diameter segments. I put them in strong bags and carry them to the workshop site.”

Rome Urban wood workshop“This particular workshop took place within ‘Parco dell’ Appia Antica,’ a huge green area, crossing the whole city of Rome that hosts lots of ancient Roman monuments. It was a didactic, recreational, activity conducted with segments of urban wood, mainly pruning remains. The kids had a lot of fun transforming the wood into objects using tools with the assistance of our experts.”

He added that the event was an opportunity to inform people of the value of urban wood in hopes that they recognize the importance of keeping as much of it as possible out of the waste stream and capitalizing on its carbon sequestration. 

“At the end of the three workshops, we put many kilos of urban wood to use and placing the wood objects the kids made into their homes, and saving them and their carbon from landfills.” 

Rome Urban Wood Workshop 

 

  

 

 

 



Watch Black Oak Go From Logs to Table

By Rich Christianson



I really like this 2019 video of a repurposed black oak felled near the Mill Mountain Zoo in Roanoke, VA. 

In less than 4 minutes, it shows how the “declining” tree was removed, yielding three logs each weighing upwards of 3 tons. From there, the logs are milled, kiln-dried, and made into tables by St. Pierre Sawmill and Woodworking; a member of the Virginia Urban Wood Group.

It’s worth checking out.

 



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.

 



Chicago City Council Debates Urban Forestry Advisory Board To Address Declining Tree Population

Photo: Openlands

By Zachary Mauer 
Associate Editor
Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD/MPP 2022

Across the United States, metropolitan areas are experiencing a net loss of about 36 million trees every year. That amounts to about 175,000 acres of lost tree cover. Meanwhile, Chicago loses more than 10,000 trees every year due to, in part, inefficient tree trimming and management. Fewer trees means less shade and worse air quality. In response, several Chicago City Council Aldermen are proposing the Urban Forestry Advisory Board (“UFAB”) in order to assess current policies and propose innovative ways to protect Chicago’s tree population.           

Chicago has a tree-trimming problem
In 2019, the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) released a report highlighting ways in which the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Bureau of Forestry could improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their tree-trimming program. Since the creation of 311 in 1999, the city has used a reactive approach to tree trimming by responding only to resident’s complaints. As a result, the Bureau of Forestry spent 75% of its time addressing these 311 requests, causing 40% of parkway trees (approximately 206,000) to not be trimmed in 10 or more years.   

According to an independent report issued in 2009, a grid-based approach to tree trimming would reduce the average crew’s travel time by 35% and the average cost per tree trim by 60%. This could increase the daily tree trimming by 147% and 87% more addresses receiving services over the course of a year.

CBS News reported in January that that Chicago residents across the city have been complaining that 311 requests are being marked completed before the job was done. Some residents are forced to spend money to repair damage on their homes or cars caused by falling branches. Residents of West Englewood are worried that a falling branch could seriously injure someone.

City workers are avoiding completing these tree-trimming requests by marking the requests as “no tree” or “no such address.” The city’s response has been that the pandemic, as well as a large storm, have kept them busy over the past year. Still, other major cities that use a proactive, cyclical, or grid-based approach include New York City, Toronto, Los Angeles, as well as Chicago’s neighbors Evanston, Oak Lawn, and Park Ridge.

Environmental and health risks associated with loss of trees
One of the main consequences of losing trees in a large city is the urban heat island effect. Shade from trees, together with evaporation of the water their leaves transpire, can help reduce peak summer temperatures in their vicinity by 2 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. In Davis, CA, researchers found that shade from trees reduced the surface temperature of asphalt by up to 36 degrees F, and of the passenger compartments of parked cars by 47 degrees F.

Also, urban trees reduce concentrations of particulate matter, the most damaging type of air pollution. A study of 10 U.S. cities found that urban trees remove enough particulate matter to reduce annual health impacts by amounts ranging from $1.1 million in Syracuse, NY, to $60.1 million in New York City. A 2015 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that in the 15-state area and 17-year period covered, more than 15,000 additional deaths from cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke occurred as a result of urban tree loss.       

Further, nitrogen dioxide is one of the main contributors to smog and one of the six leading air pollutants identified by the Environmental Protection Agency. In a study conducted in Portland, tree cover had a significant effect on nitrogen dioxide levels and residents’ respiratory health by area. In higher-tree areas, young kids were estimated to have avoided missing more than 7,000 school days annually because of asthma attacks.           

Chicago Urban Forestry Advisory Board
The proposed Urban Forestry Advisory Board (UFAB) would have seven ex officio members and six appointed members. The seven ex officio members would be the Chief Sustainability Officer, Chair of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, General Superintendent & Chief Executive Officer of Streets and Sanitation, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, Commissioner of Water Management, and Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development. The six appointed members would be representatives from two nongovernmental organizations that participate in the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, a representative from a nongovernmental community organization, two representatives from a tree service business, and a representative from an academic arborist community. 

UFAB’s duties would include developing and annually updating an Urban Forestry Management Plan, as well as recommending legislation based on viewing and assessing current city policies, procedures, and expenditures. UFAB would also facilitate a public education of urban forestry and establish a Heritage Tree program that identifies trees of special significance. Other major cities with forest advisory boards include San Diego, which has a 15-member board appointed by the mayor, and Seattle where they have a 13-member board comprised of various professionals and community members.       

The ordinance to create UFAB was first introduced last summer, but was put on the back burner as the pandemic raged on. Now, the Chicago City Council hopes to introduce the ordinance again in the coming months.         

The City of Chicago’s Inspector General Joe Ferguson said it best: “A thriving and healthy urban forest is critical to mitigating ever-mounting climate change concerns like the urban heat island effect and excessive storm water runoff, and recent studies have revealed stark differences across city neighborhoods that generally correlate with tree canopy percentages. Chicago’s communities and individuals particularly stand to benefit from a more efficient and equitable city service, with obvious environmental health benefits, including cleaner air, cooling, and reduction of stress in children. Strategic, rather than reactive, tree care also prevents property damage, utility interruptions, and street closures.”