Washington is primed for a new venture into urban sustainability: wood salvage and utilization.

Compared to other states, Washington is already at the front-end of realizing the value of urban forest resources, even after trees are removed from the landscape. Most communities in the Puget Sound region chip or chop wood for compost, mulch, hog fuel, and firewood. While these uses of urban waste wood keep it out of landfills, they do not always make the best possible use of the wood. Some, if not most, this wood could have higher and better uses, such as in milled boards for construction projects, unique artisan pieces, or furniture.

This fall, DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program (UCF), in cooperation with the US Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, is partnering with DNRs Pacific Cascade Region to initiate a wood utilization project at the Cedar Creek Correctional Facility wood mill and carpentry shop. Currently, DNR hires, trains and supervises inmates in wildland fire suppression and restoration projects at Cedar Creek. These crews will now be provided an opportunity to learn how to mill wood and learn carpentry skills and to craft wood products using wood salvaged from the urban forest. Products will be returned to wood-providing partners or donated, at cost, to non-profit organizations.

The City of Olympia has agreed to provide trees for a pilot project. The trees are part of the city’s multi-year plan to remove legacy oak trees damaged by topping and identified as a public risk. In addition to the City, a new non-profit, the Arbutus Folk School in Olympia, has been identified as an end-user.

A feasibility study designed to inform program expansion is being conducted this summer by UCFs special project intern, Nikkole Hughes. The study has answered many logistical challenges associated with the project.

“As Urban and Community Forestry Program’s summer intern, I’ve had the invaluable opportunity to connect with urban forestry specialists throughout the Puget Sound while deepening my knowledge of urban wood management and utilization,” Nikkole says. 

She adds: “The lessons I’ve learned, while specific to the complexities of the Urban Wood Utilization Project, have provided a template of sorts for future projects and collaborations. At the core of this project are the things which draw me to the public sector in the first place: coordination, networking, idea sharing, and tenacity. Though the particulars of the Project have evolved as we’ve uncovered more details about realities of reclaiming urban wood, the simple fact that it demands the involvement of a diverse array of partners remains.”

DNR’s Pacific Cascade Region is targeting late fall to open and start up the carpentry shop at Cedar Creek.

To learn more about Urban and Community Forestry Program’s Urban Wood Utilization Project or to share your ideas, contact Nikkole Hughes, DNR UCF Summer Intern, nikkole.hughes@dnr.wa.gov or 360-902-1637

Legion Way Oak trees in Olympia. Photo: Nikkole Hughes
Legion Way Oak trees in Olympia. Photo: Nikkole Hughes