In addition to the normal causes like age, storms or disease, trees in urban and suburban areas also come down during development or landscaping changes. Tree and woodworking experts say those large, mature trees need not simply become mulch or fireplace fodder.
A workshop hosted Dec. 12 by the Missouri Department of Conservation at the Gorman Discovery Center in Kansas City – “Urban Wood: Reclaim Kansas City's Fallen Trees” – brought together foresters, designers, builders, lumber millers and others to discuss the many ways to put felled trees to use.
The environmental education non-profit Bridging the Gap worked with MDC and the Kansas Forest Service to organize the event, along with the Heartland Tree Alliance and Center for Architecture and Design.
“What we want to do is make a local network, build awareness and make sure no wood goes to waste,” said Noelle Morris. “It's a very large conversation, if you think about the entire loop.”
Beyond those who work every day with trees or wood, Morris said, that conversation includes designers, architects and homeowners, who many times can start the conversation about reusing wood.
“There's a lot of moving parts,” Morris said. “Our purpose was to educate about what's already happening to see if there's enough interest to build a network.
“We have some infrastructure in place with the Heartland Tree Alliance.”
Morris said there is an important distinction between urban lumber that comes from trees where people live and work and reclaimed lumber that comes from dismantled buildings and still has good use left.
Among the ways recycled lumber is being used, the MDC noted from the workshop: Some cities trade saw logs to lumber mills in exchange for credits toward tree removal service; parks departments might use lumber from a park tree for park furnishings; designers and builders incorporate local woods for their projects; and homeowners needing to have a valued tree removed can use the lumber for home projects.
“Removed trees are not just for mulch or firewood,” Russell Hinnah MDC forestry field programs supervisor, said in a news release “They have uses for a lot of other products.”
“There are definitely some municipalities and local tree care companies, saving and milling urban lumber,” Morris said, Kansas City among them. That lumber later is resold in raw form or in finished projects.
For example, the Urban Lumber Company on U.S. 40 in eastern Kansas City has been in operation for a dozen years, turning discarded trees into usable lumber to sell. The business takes quantities of logs and lumber from commercial properties, developments and municipalities, as well as log drop-offs from tree removal services. Its website boasts of nearly 757,000 pounds of recycled wood through June, with 109,000 feet of wood sawn, and it also has a place to help connect home woodworking projects with artisans for hire.
Morris said that as cities and individuals deal with the Emerald Ash Borer issue, there isn't a better time to have a large discussion about reusing trees.
“You're going to have millions of trees of urban lumber that can be used (beyond mulching),” she said. “Most of the damage done to the tree by the insect is done in the outer layer. The inner core, that's good lumber.”