Written by Andrew Sims
[Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from its original publication in the March 2021 issue of Urban News posted March 11 to the WI DNR Forestry News page of the WI Department of Natural Resources website.]
Urban wood utilization has become a popular topic of conversation within the arboriculture community. Not only is it a “feel good” opportunity for communities to repurpose urban forest products, but it is also a much-needed source of revenue as well.
Historically, Wausau contracted with a local logger to haul wood materials to mills. This contract was primarily for the pulp market, as many sawmills won’t accept urban wood due to unknown foreign objects. As a result, much of the oversized material did not have the best end-use… Some was sold on auction by the truckload, and the rest was left to decompose. Finding those key partnerships — and being able to capitalize on them — was the key for Wausau to become successful at utilizing urban wood.
A short description of two of the City of Wausau’s new urban wood partnerships follows.
The first partnership began to develop in the summer of 2020…
Don Kissinger, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Urban Forestry Coordinator, put the Wausau/Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry (PRF) Department in touch with Scott Boncher from Urban Evolutions, in Appleton, Wisconsin. Designers at Urban Evolutions use new and reclaimed materials to design furniture, fences, flooring, doors, wall panels, and more for retail, residential, hospitality, and commercial projects. Scott was looking for ash logs within certain specifications for an upcoming project with a large corporate office in Omaha, Nebraska.
As fate would have it, Wausau detected Emerald Ash Borer (an invasive insect that kills Ash trees) in November of 2020. Although Wausau had an Ash Management Plan in place, this was a bit of a game-changer. City staff members were able to change their focus to park tree removal, many of which fit the parameters that Urban Evolutions was looking for.
Historically, any revenue generated from log or chip sales would go to the City of Wausau’s general fund. While this is good for the municipality, it does not directly aid the program. Due to the significant number of ash trees that Wausau is removing, our PRF Department asked the Wausau Finance Department for funds generated from ash log sales to be allocated to replacement trees.
We went to the Finance Department not knowing the outcome, but we were happy to learn that they are allowing the PRF Department to keep the revenue generated from the sale of ash trees to fund replacement trees.
To date, Wausau has sold 22 cords of ash logs to Urban Evolutions,
which will enable the PRF Department to use the funds to plant more than 20 new trees.
The removal process is ongoing, and we anticipate additional logs to be sold soon.
Wausau School District
A second partnership that is starting to take shape is with the Wausau School District (WSD). The district was recently awarded a grant to purchase a portable sawmill. The plan is to have a curriculum within WSD that teaches students the basics of forest products and their utilization.
While still in the planning process, WSD reached out to us looking for material to use with the sawmill at the school. This partnership has excellent potential for both the Wausau School District and the Wausau/Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department.
Wausau School District students will have an opportunity to learn about sawing, drying, and utilizing wood.
The Wausau/Marathon County PRF Department will have a “wood outlet” well into the future, including acquiring milled lumber (such as bridge decking and picnic-table boards) for our projects.
For Wausau, urban wood utilization has come a long way in a short amount of time. While this is not necessarily a template for other communities, it may lead to new ideas to capitalize on a resource that can mutually benefit several entities.
If you’d like to learn more about managing trees located on streets, in parks, or as part of urban forests, I invite you visit the DNR’s Urban Forestry News page.
City Forester | Wausau / Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department
Andy Sims began his career with the Park Department in 2010, most recently moving into the City Forester position. He holds degrees in both Urban Forestry and Public Administration. Prior to working for the County, Andy practiced arboriculture in private industry. When not caring for trees, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and young children at their cabin. Email Andrew Sims.
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