Urban wood utilization has occurred for many years, but ramped up to a much larger scale with the infestation of the emerald ash borer. The emerald ash borer is an Asian beetle whose larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, cutting off the trees’ ability to send water and nutrients from roots to canopy. It was first discovered near Detroit, Michigan in the summer of 2002. Since then, the emerald ash borer has spread to kill hundreds of millions of trees in North America, costing municipalities, property owners, and forest products industries the same, if not more, in dollars.
Michigan was hit hard by the EAB infestation, leading to a mass removal of ash trees in an attempt to stop the spread. Normal procedure would be to remove the tree and send it to the wood chipper or chop it into firewood. But while emerald ash borers attack the inner bark, the interior of the tree, from which lumber is processed, remains untouched. Inside is a perfectly wonderful tree that a growing group of people felt shouldn’t go to waste.
In the years that followed, U.S. Forest Service funding helped to launch local networks, demonstration projects, and educational programs to get industry members connected and customers interested in urban wood as a response to EAB and beyond. In 2014, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin received funding support for Bringing Urban Forestry Full Circle: Localized Approaches for Capturing Value and Enhancing Public Benefits of Urban Forests. Funding is from the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry Landscape Scale Restoration Grant Program. In this project, existing efforts in these four states formed the Urban Wood Network to:
- Build regional and national awareness of the urban wood market by bringing together urban wood efforts in the four partner states and beyond, providing leadership and sharing information.
- Strengthen the urban wood supply chain within Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin with the goal of increasing the amount of urban wood that can be reclaimed, processed, and sold.
- Build a common understanding, language, commitment, and eventually, brand for the urban wood marketplace.