By Rich Christianson
I have the odd habit of referring to my involvement with the Illinois Wood Utilization Team as missionary work.
Cutting to the chase, the mission of this missionary work is to create and promote a marketplace for wood salvaged from community and landscape trees felled due to insect infestation, storm damage, urban development, old age and other life-ending causes.
IL WUT, as we are prone to refer to ourselves, is made up of several dozen dedicated volunteers from all walks of the urban wood supply chain: arborists, tree care professionals, state and municipal foresters, sawyers, architects, woodworkers, etc.
Our activities, as well as those of our Full Circle Urban Forest Network partners in Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin, are supported by a grant from the USDA Forest Service, an equal opportunity provider, employer, and lender. The Forest Service has invested in a number of urban forestry intiatives the years, including many aimed at repurposing some of the millions of trees infested by the emerald ash borer as lumber. Sadly, the fate of most of these beetle-ravaged trees is chipping. Some are mulched or chopped up as fire wood.
It’s a fact, however, that many of these trees have sufficient length and girth to yield lumber that can be used to make furniture, cabinet, flooring and other wood products. The emerald ash borer might kill the tree but it does not harm the wood. A small but growing number of businesses have sprung up to capitalize on urban wood, the next generation of “green” and a handy material for those who like to source local/buy local.
Next month my missionary work takes me to Atlanta and the International Woodworking Fair, a biennial event I have attended without fail since 1986. IWF is the North American woodworking industry’s largest event. It is an industry beacon, attracting more than 1,000 exhibiting companies displaying machinery, cutting tools, raw materials and much more. More than 15,000 woodworkers from throughout the U.S., Canada and beyond are expected to attend.
Through special arrangement with the organizers of IWF, urban wood will have a national forum, an amazing opportunity to connect with woodworkers and suppliers. The Full Circle Urban Forest Network will present a free 90-minute seminar, “Urban Wood: Making Products and Profits from Landscape Trees” at 1 p.m. Friday, August 26. I’ll moderate a panel made up of three urban wood entrepreneurs – Jennifer Alger, CEO of Far West Forest Products; Rick Siewert, owner of Wood From The Hood; and Dwayne Sperber, owner of Wudeward.
We’re fortunate to have the financial support of three forward-thinking entities for this program: Wood-Mizer, the Southeast Urban Wood Exchange and Dovetail Partners.
Major Sponsor Wood-Mizer of Indianapolis, IN, has long been a leader in portable sawmills, a great tool for milling lumber from trees harvested from the urban forest. A couple of great resources provided by Wood-Mizer includes The Wood-Mizer Way magazine, which includes engaging profiles of custom sawyers and woodworkers, many focused on urban wood. Woodworkers looking for a supply of urban lumber or slabs can find local sources by using the Wood-Mizer Pro Sawyer Network, a state-by-state guide to Wood-Mizer sawmill owners.
Major Sponsor the Southeast Urban Wood Exchange is preparing to launch a new website to support the creation and promotion of urban wood networks within Region 8 of the U.S. Forest Service which encompasses 13 States from Virginia to Florida and Oklahoma, plus Puerto Rico. The Exchange’s mission is to help increase awareness of urban forests as a sustainable source of wood suitable for processing, thus increasing demand for urban wood.
Sponsor Dovetail Partners of Minneapolis, MN, provides authoritative information about the impacts and trade-offs of environmental decisions, including consumption choices, land use, and policy alternatives. One of its areas of expertise is urban forestry and urban wood utilization. Dovetail Partners has provided consulting services for the impending launch of the Southeast Urban Wood Exchange. Dovetail recently published a report, “Assessment of Urban Tree Utilization & Forestry Programs of Richmond, VA and Raleigh, NC.” Dovetail has also produced several videos about the urban forest, including the one below.