New Life for Old Trees

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urban wood rescue trees

The Sacramento Tree Foundation has come up with a novel way to manage wood waste from the urban forest. Through a program called Urban Wood Rescue, dead trees that normally would be chipped into mulch or sent to a landfill to decompose are turned into slabs of quality kiln-dried wood prized by artisans and do-it-yourselfers.

“Trees inevitably die; that’s just a fact of the urban forest or any forest,” says Stephanie Robinson, communications and engagement manager for the organization. “But that really gorgeous, useable wood has a lot of environmental benefits if we retain it.”

That’s because living trees capture carbon in their wood. “When we leave that wood in whole form, it locks down the carbon as long as that wood remains in whole form. If we chip it or burn it or let it decompose in the landfill, eventually all of that carbon is released back into the atmosphere,” Robinson explains.

urban wood rescue
Urban Wood Rescue trainee Katelyn Rosenbauer and technician Ana Muñoz

A grant from Cal Fire enabled the foundation to launch the wood rescue program. It all starts when a tree is removed and the donated log is delivered to the Urban Wood Rescue lumberyard, where it’s milled and dried in a vacuum kiln.

“Once slabs are dry, we list them on our website and then sell them to the public. All of those proceeds go back to the tree foundation to further advance tree plantings and our programs,” says Robinson.

The rescued wood is snapped up by everyone from fine furniture makers looking for the perfect slab to weekend warriors needing a few two-by-fours for a home project. The type of wood available at the lumberyard is constantly changing, but it’s not unusual to find English walnut, elm, redwood or maple on hand. As Robinson explains, “Our inventory reflects Sacramento’s urban forest and is based completely on what’s dying and being removed at that particular time.”

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The Urban Wood Rescue program welcomes the donation of trees that meet their guidelines: Logs must be a minimum of 14 inches in diameter, at least 8 feet long and reasonably straight with minimal decay. The program is unable to cut down or pick up trees from the community, however; all logs must be delivered to the lumberyard with prior approval.

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