Urban wood utilization in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia: a comparison of industry practices and perceptions

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Dovetail Partners, Inc.


Urban areas in the United States – in the South and nationwide – have expanded rapidly over the last few decades. This expansion has led to an estimated 4 billion trees in urban areas across the U.S.[3] If the broader definition of “metropolitan areas” is used, the estimate increases to 70 billion trees growing in population centers throughout the country.[4] As urban land is projected to continue increasing in the continental U.S. (nearly tripling in size by 2050),[5] the discipline of urban forestry will continue growing in importance. Of concern to urban foresters and urban residents alike is the fate of trees that are removed from private yards, small wooded lots, and municipally owned areas. Whether tree removal is due to damage from disease or storms, construction and development, or other factors, the volume of wood removed is substantial. Estimates of this volume range from 16 to 38 million green tons per year nationwide; even the lower end of this range is larger than total annual harvests from U.S. National Forests.[6] Historically, urban trees have been disposed of rather than being utilized as lumber or value-added products. Recently, however, this approach has been undergoing a shift, with increasing awareness of the magnitude of wood being wasted and the potential for better use of this raw material. The transition from a disposal mindset to one of utilization for urban wood ultimately affects a wide range of stakeholders – from arborists, foresters, loggers, haulers, sawyers, millers, and wood product developers to local governments, builders, landowners, and consumers. For all professionals in the lumber and wood products supply chain, there can be challenges, such as high costs related to handling and disposal of removed trees; there can also be market opportunities for turning a disposal problem into an array of valuable products. For entire communities, urban wood utilization has implications for broader environmental issues such as resource sustainability, carbon sequestration, and air quality. [1] Dovetail Partners, Minneapolis, MN [2] Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA, [3] Urban areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau include (1) urbanized areas with populations of 50,000 or more, (2) places that contain some urbanized areas within their boundaries, or (3) places with at least 2,500 people and located outside of urbanized areas. See additional details in the following source: Nowak, D., Noble, M., Sisinni, S., and Dwyer, J. 2001. Assessing the U.S. Urban Forest Resource. Journal of Forestry 99(3):37-42. [4] Metropolitan areas are delineated by counties based on urban areas within them. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau defines the Raleigh metropolitan area as Wake, Nash, Franklin, and Johnston counties and the Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area as Durham, Orange, Chatham, and Person counties (www.census.gov/programs-surveys/metro-micro.html). [5] See Dovetail Report: Using Industrial Clusters to Build an Urban Wood Utilization Program: A Twin Cities Case Study (2010) [6] See Dovetail Report: Urban Forests and Urban Tree Use: Opportunities on Local, State, National, and International Scales (2014)