Urban Wood Movement to Hold First Conference in San Francisco

Event to include free public showcase of furniture, lumber, art

May 17, 2011 — Downed urban trees, which often become waste, mulch or fuel, can be better used as a resource for wood products, according to Doug Wildman, organizer of the California Urban Wood Conference.  The conference, happening May 19-21 in the Presidio of San Francisco, is the first-ever gathering of a new movement to reduce greenwaste and carbon emissions by standardizing and promoting the use of downed urban trees for furniture, lumber and art.

“Urban trees are not currently grown for their wood, but when they come down due to storms, disease or development, their wood can and should be harvested,” said Wildman, who is program director for Friends of the Urban Forest, a non-profit organization that helps individuals and neighborhood groups to plant and care for street trees and sidewalk gardens in San Francisco.  “By turning these trees into wood products that can be used locally, we can reduce the waste, expense and carbon emissions that result from using them as mulch and fuel.”

Conference participants will include urban forest researchers, educators, urban forest advocates, arborists, and the artisans and small business owners who already make and sell products made from urban wood.  Experts from around the nation will give presentations on the industry’s most critical issues including new business formation, certification of urban forest products, measurement of the urban forest resource base, and how community and governmental organizations can support the further development of the industry.  The keynote speaker will be Eric Oldar, former State Urban and Community Forestry Coordinator for California.

“Increasingly, architects and builders want environmentally friendly materials so they can build in an environmentally friendly way,” said Sam Sherrill, Ph.D., a co-founder of the Urban Forest Products Alliance (UFPA) and co-organizer of the conference.  “Local urban wood can be an excellent resource for them because it can help them meet the LEED standard for use of local material.”  LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a standard for sustainable, “green” building practices.  The UFPA has applied for urban wood to be recognized by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an organization that certifies wood to ensure responsible management of the world’s forests.  FSC certification would qualify urban wood to meet additional LEED standards, making it even more attractive to architects and builders.

Sherrill is working on developing an urban hardwood standard that will address the unusual shapes, grain patterns, colors and community significance that distinguishes urban wood from commercially harvested lumber.  This information, in addition to the National Hardwood Lumber Association’s rating standard, will help builders make decisions about how to use urban wood.  According to the UFPA, timber from American urban areas could produce 3.8 billion board feet of hardwood lumber annually.

Urban wood products have been made on a very limited scale for years; a notable example almost a decade ago was the production by Taylor Guitars, a California company, of hundreds of “Liberty Tree Guitars” using wood from a tree that had served as a rallying site leading up to the American Revolution and that was eventually toppled by a storm.  The urban wood movement is gaining momentum now, said Sherrill, in part because the Emerald Ash Borer is causing the deaths of tens of millions of Ash trees in the mid-western United States.  Urban foresters in Michigan and Illinois are working hard to ensure that such wood is put to good use — its “highest and best use,” in movement parlance.   Sherrill said that those two states, along with California, are leading innovation in the use of urban trees for wood products.

The California Urban Wood Conference will conclude with a free Urban Forest Product Showcase on Saturday, May 21 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Building 201 at the intersection of Gorgas Avenue and Halleck Street in the Presidio.  Members of the public are invited to see furniture, art and other items made from urban wood; meet the artisans; and watch demonstrations of portable mills.  Tables, bed frames, chairs and other items will be available for purchase.

Friends of the Urban Forest is hosting the California Urban Wood Conference in collaboration with the Bay Area chapter of the California Urban Forests Council, with funding from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.  More information about the conference and the Urban Forest Product Showcase is available online by calling Doug Wildman at 415-268-0781.

About Friends Of The Urban Forest

Friends of the Urban Forest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  By greening the streets of San Francisco, we support the health and livability of the urban environment.  Since 1981, FUF has planted over 45,000 trees (more than all the trees in Golden Gate Park), and is responsible for over 40% of San Francisco’s street tree canopy.