Wausau’s New Partners In Urban Wood Utilization

By Andrew Sims, City Forester, Wausau/Marathon County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department

Urban Evolutions

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 dispose of urban forest products, but a much-needed source of revenue as well. 

Historically, Wausau contracted with a local logger to haul material 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 were 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 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 us in touch with Scott Boncher from Urban Evolutions. 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 in November of 2020. At the same time, there was an ash management plan already in place, which was a bit of a game-changer. City staff was able to change focus to park tree removal, many of which fit the parameters Urban Evolutions was looking for.

Historically, any revenue generated from log or chip sales would go to the City’s general fund. While this is good for the municipality, it does not aid the program. Due to the significant number of ash Wausau is removing, our department asked the finance department for funds generated from ash log sales to be allocated to replacement trees.

We went to the finance department expecting this request would be denied, but we were happy to learn that finance is allowing us to keep revenue generated from the sale of ash. To date, Wausau has sold 22 cords of ash logs to Urban Evolutions, which will enable us to plant more than 20 new trees. The removal process is ongoing, and we anticipate additional logs to be sold soon.

A second partnership that is starting to take shape is with the Wausau School District. The district was recently awarded a grant to purchase a Wood-Mizer. The plan is to have a curriculum that teaches the basics of forest products and their utilization.

While still in the planning process, the district reached out to us looking for the material. This partnership has excellent potential for both the district and our department. The students will have an opportunity to learn about sawing, drying and utilizing wood. We will have a wood outlet well into the future, including acquiring milled lumber for our projects, such as bridge decking and picnic table boards.

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.

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