Urban wood utilization has occurred for many years and pocketed efforts in different areas of the country have been informally networking around utilization since the 1990’s. Efforts in the Midwest ramped up with the infestation of the emerald ash borer (EAB). Michigan was hit hard by the EAB infestation, leading to a mass removal of ash trees in an attempt to stop the spread. 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 from a USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry Landscape Scale Restoration Grant and the Urban Wood Network was established by this group in 2017.
At this same time, an urban wood stakeholder group in California formalized as a 501 (c) 3 organization, Urban Salvaged and Reclaimed Woods Inc., and began to develop a membership network with funds from a Cal Fire Urban and Community Forestry Program grant. This group began to gain traction and informally network in the 90’s in response to an assembly bill to decrease the amount of waste going to California’s landfills. Although many were already utilizing and had recognized the beauty and value of urban wood long before the passing of the assembly bill, the bill was the catalyst that enabled them to begin to develop and implement a plan for a full circle economy to divert the wood from the waste-stream by creating processing hubs, consistent products, and developing markets for urban wood that eventually led to the development of the non-profit organization that expanded beyond California.
Recognizing that these separate urban wood stakeholder organizations would most effectively achieve their common mission and goals through collaboration and information sharing, these two distinct groups came together with the Forest Service’s Baltimore Urban Wood Project in late 2019 to unite efforts under the UWN to move the urban wood industry forward.