Milwaukee, Wisconsin



Tell us about the City of Milwaukee’s urban forestry program.

Milwaukee has had a managed urban forestry program since 1918. We prune, plant, and remove trees annually and have done so since the turn of the century. We know a lot about our urban forest. We keep an inventory identifying species, location, size, diameter, maintenance history, and more. We know that in any given year, we will lose about 2 percent of our population of 194,000 trees. So 3,500 trees will come out of our population annually and be replaced.

What inspired you to start utilizing urban wood?

We have a pretty good handle on the supply chain on our end. Urban tree removals represent a cost for processing and disposal. With the influx in emerald ash borer, the trend to buy local, and a goal to reduce costs, we set out to find a better, higher value utilization of urban wood than woodchips and firewood. Sending our trees to an urban wood sawyer saves taxpayers $80,000-$100,000 per year.

Also, we are in a unique position in history to launch an urban wood industry. First, we have the influx in urban wood inventory because of emerald ash borer. The other catalyst is the emphasis on locally-grown food and locally-sourced materials. People want to know where their food was grown, how it was grown, and if it is safe. The same is true for wood. It makes little sense to have wood from the West coast when it is available from your own backyard. I am convinced that the demand for urban wood will grow once the public is aware of such a reliable source they can access.

How much of your urban wood is utilized?

Any volume of wood we produce could be diverted to a higher end use such as lumber or another forest product.

Who aren’t your customers?

We are not yet selling larger projects to contractors and architects. In fact, we have had to turn projects down because we currently cannot work in large quantities. We are working on a grant to get a new kiln, which will increase our capacity and rack space. Offering larger quantities will better help us engage with the design community, including flooring, paneling, and larger residential projects.

Tell us about your program.

Urban wood is not much different than a traditionally forested product, but it does have a lot of challenges related to its handling and processing. We have a large staff who has the skills to remove trees and transport logs. Since 2011, we have worked with Kettle Moraine Hardwoods, Inc., in Hartford, Wisconsin. We send them containers with a 30-cubic-yard capacity filled with logs and branches for free. All we pay is $25 per ton for the transport, where the alternative cost for disposal was $47 per ton. They determine what can be milled, chipped for boiler fuel or chopped into firewood; dry it; and sell it on their own. We send 2/3 of our urban wood to Kettle Moraine Hardwoods and about 1/3 to Bayview Lumber Company in Milwaukee.

How do you promote urban wood utilization to the Milwaukee community?

Our arrangement with Kettle Moraine Hardwoods provides the City with free dimensional lumber for use in special projects, such as conference tables crafted by a city carpenter and placed in several city offices. These unique pieces of furniture become conversation pieces for city officials hosting dignitaries and residents, and help to promote Milwaukee’s sustainable use of urban wood. We’ve also used lower quality dimensional lumber to build flower and urban gardening beds. We strongly believe we can promote urban wood utilization just by having stair treads, accent walls, moldings, paneling, and furniture in various residential and commercial buildings throughout the city.

What do you need from the urban wood industry to accomplish this?

We need standards for specifying urban wood that planners and builders can use so they understand what urban wood is and, most importantly, how it is different from traditional dimensional lumber. There are no best practices in place for private companies and municipalities that would be interested in harvesting trees for urban wood. The people who are currently working with urban wood are learning through trial and error.

Where do you think the urban wood industry is headed?

There are a lot of pieces coming together, efforts in the works for many years now are coming to fruition:

  • The International Society of Arboriculture, for example, is a professional organization that is working to develop standard urban wood utilization best management practices.
  • I serve on Wisconsin Urban Forest Council and urban wood utilization has been one of four major initiatives for last three years.
  • In 2014, the Department of Natural Resources restructured its forest product division and hired four new forest product specialists for the state. Because of the urban wood influence, they now have the responsibility to connect urban wood suppliers with processors. Wisconsin is one of the only states that has state forest product utilization personnel also focused on urban wood.
  • In 2015, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources began work on a statewide Urban Forest Inventory and Assessment project that when completed in 2018 will provide urban wood volume estimates needed to quantify regional urban wood supplies. Understanding raw supply volumes is a critical step in the growth and development of a primary and secondary urban wood processing industry.       

This is the time to be part of the process.

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Our mission is to inform, collaborate, and connect to build business and consumer confidence in the urban wood industry. Whether you are looking to expand your existing model or want to start a new business dedicated to urban wood, click here to see how we can help you be successful.


The Urban Wood Network is funded in part by the USDA Forest Service, State & Private Forestry, Cooperative Forestry, and the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory.  The Urban Wood Network provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetics.