Urban Wood Symposium, Part 2

by Community Manager ‎03-08-2010 08:28 PM - edited ‎03-08-2010 09:20 PM

Today I was part of what will hopefully become the birth of a new category of certified, sustainable lumber in America.


All sorts of interesting people from five states were gathered at this brainstoriming symposium, held in a sustainably built public library in Ann Arbor, MI.   Representatives from federal, state and municipal forestry departments, regional arboretums, folks from state departments of natural resources, as well as independent forestry auditors/accreditors and private and commercial wood products makers (like me!) gathered together. 


Chief among other topcs was the idea of carving out a new certification system, designation and protocol for lumber recliamed from America's Urban Forests.  The aim is to create inroads to bring this lumber to the consumer market in commercial-like quantities.


Let me set the stage for a moment.   We're not talking about a guy with a chain saw who's wanting to cut down the occasional tree.  We're referring to a regimented system of taking millions of trees in the urban forest - which are coming down ANYWAY for a whole raft of reasons - and then turning those saw logs into useful pieces.   The components that aren't saw logs would serve the firewood, mulch, landscape and other such industries.   And this is something that is NOT happening today at this level and in this quantity.


The scale?   Very literally millions of trees annually from state, local and municipal sources.  


These aren't people going out into a stand of managed forest land and selecting which ones are to be cut for commerce.   The trees in question are ones that were designated for culling out of URBAN settings.   And that's something we see daily.  The local arborists and foresters who were at the symposium reported on their cutting volumes and the numbers are really staggering.    Factors like invasive insects, fungal disease, etc. are mostly to blame right now.  


What happens with the wood now?  Well, much of it is either mulched or landfilled.   And a significant percentage are 'lost', with no reporting on what happened with them at all. 


To lay down some back story, right now the US has as one of its chief accreditation bodies the FSC, or Forestry Stewardship Council.   FSC cerfification applies to commercially harvested timber taken from mostly managed forest lands.   "Managed' means that replantings replace harvested timber, yielding a sustainable supply, and it relates to the chain of custody of the resources and the state of the management of the land, itself.  


Yet there is no designation for timber harvested from our urban forests.    That's street parkways, parks and backyards.  And it's every bit as valid to call it a 'forest' as the stand of trees you'd drive out to visit in the country.


Certification for this is one of many steps that are being explored in the pursuit of creating a unique and marketable brand for this urban timber.   Once certified and branded with a formalized, universal name, the goal is to get this wood into the lumber supply chain in the US.


I am definitely condensing what was a ten hour long conference, and there is a tremendous amount that I'm simply skipping to keep this narrative short and easy to read.


Ultimately the point is this.   When parks departments, utility companies and anybody else has to remove a tree from an urban setting due to age, damage, disease or other causes this wood is not necessarily lost.  It may look like it's been whisked away, tucked back behing the Great Oz's black curtain, never to be seen or heard from again.  In urban and fringe suburban areas this view is pretty prevelant.   Interestingly, it's not necessarily the case.  


There are many exceptionally influential and plugged-in people who are working to creating a widespread return of this wood to the consumer industry.  That could be as boards for sale at woodworking outlets, it could be as lumber for any range of commercial users (think: the lumber inside vinyl windows or lumbercore doors, etc, etc, etc.) or any other thing where timber would be required.   Or flooring, trim and other construction needs.


As it sits right now this lumber is sort of in a gray zone, unclassified and unclassifiable within the current FSC guidelines.  If this were to change it would be a vehicle (not the method itself, but a vehicle) with which more barriers would come down.   And the goal is to then let this HUUUUGE, UNTAPPED local resource find its way into the wood supply chain.


And much of it could be returned to us, the woodworker.   And in species that may not be on the menu already at your local wood-o-rama.   (But that's a topic for another show.....)


When taken to its conclusion, it's an environmentally green story, taking local resources and turning them back to local demand.  One of the very much intended benefits to this is to generate JOBS, as this is a workforce industry that really doesn't exist today. 


It's also a very significant savings on the volume of decomposing biomass heading to landfills.   Some areas are concerned about the longevity of their dump sites.   In SE Michigan alone this reportedly would eliminate an estimated 8.8 million cubic yards of material from heading to landfills each year.   And the lumber would have a second life as a useful component in any manner of applications.


Urban timber is a topic of conversation that you may hear more of in the coming months and years.    And for me, it was very interesting to be part of the breakout groups all day and to participate in the brainstorming sessions about the logistics, steps and overall ingredients required to take a new wood product to market.


Really, very cool stuff.

on ‎03-09-2010 07:05 AM

Interesting idea.  I would need to hear more discussion as to the logistics, but invisioning what you are saying is a quite complicated task. Seems to me it would be a regionally moving profit center. Determining a break-even point and training those close to the source without a vested interest would be tough.


Our Town has addressed this and we have 3 transition points, 2 yards gather and one processes. The thought of bringing the lumber into the woodworking market is not even addressed. Now logs may be bought from the yard and hauled away but cutting, drying and preparing for the lumber market is not don't here.


But now I'm curious........thanks.......Neil


PS..... bit off topic but the same thought process holds true for furniture goods such as IKEA, which I have no issue with. The casegoods can be chipped back down and reconstituted in new particle board for reusing. Regional hauling and national transition points leading back to a Particle Board Plant would be needed. 


Good thinking topic!!!

by Community Manager
‎03-09-2010 03:14 PM - edited ‎03-10-2010 11:13 AM

Things are in their infancy, and the efforts are being spearheaded by tree professionals in the upper Midwest.  And not so coincidentally, it's the same individuals who have been combatting and evolving protocols for the ever-emerging emerald ash borer outbreak (a whole 'nother level of discussion that can have a thread and blog of its own, and I'm in THAT mix, too....).  


All this waste wood - millions of trees from each state with the bug - is the point source for what caused the discussion.  And then it evolved into not just the culled ash, but to also include the other lumber that municipal, park and regional people are removing on a daily basis.


I do believe that there is one more regional meeting later this year, and the group moved to introduce/invite members from the national level to the party at upcoming symposiums.    During that process is when the procedures and rituals to get in front of the FSC will be taken from line items on a page to action items for influential/connected individuals to pursue in real life.


It's REALLY intriguing.   There's something to be said for not having to move a natural resource more than... say about 300 miles or so between standing timber and finished product.   We haven't seen that kind of situation for well nigh a century.   


More could be said, but at this point much is just planning on paper.   The true action will be happening in the next 24-48 months and I'd conservatively guesstimate that we won't see urban wood on the menu at your local wood-o-rama for easily five to seven years.   A LOT has to be put into place between now and then.


But it IS moving forward.   And that's really, really fascinating to watch.



on ‎03-22-2010 06:57 AM

Matt........I don't know if this is good or bad...LOL.   Took the train into NYC yesterday to poke around the Architectural Digest NY Home Show and I thought of you.


We just had a very bad Nor'Easter; tremendous wind damage.  Train tracks being train tracks, industrial zoning lines the entire stretch of the LIRR. I'm looking out the window and it dawns on me, there's a ton of fresh lumber stroon in small yards along the tracks. Some was obviously split already, but an awful lot was still in log form waiting for something.  I want to emphasize, there were alots of piles of 10 foot logs.


Can you push that group any faster.  :^)







by Community Manager
‎03-22-2010 06:11 PM - edited ‎03-23-2010 07:41 AM



Yeah, that's exactly the sort of stuff that's being discussed.   Sounds like there's a lot of saw logs that will potentially go to waste because of a lack of avenue for it.


I'll bet there's some really dynamite wood in some of those logs!