Sawmills Move out of the Forest, into the City
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — It looks like any sawmill in the forest — piles of cherry, walnut and oak tree trunks stacked high, trucks rumbling in and out, workers operating a saw. There's one exception though: There's seemingly no forest near its location, right off the highway in New Jersey's largest city.
Citilog begs to differ. The Newark company takes unwanted trees from the so-called urban forest — parks, yards, streets and wherever else a tree might grow in a city — and turns them into furniture, flooring and other materials.
Although there are many benefits of having trees, they can become a nuisance if they become damaged, fall down or outgrow their space.
"Every community in the U.S. has this problem," said Citilog's founder, Stubby Warmbold.
Around the country, companies like Warmbold's are giving new life to unwanted trees. The goal is to harness the so-called locavore movement, which advocates growing and consuming foods within the same community, and apply it to products made from trees in a way that benefits the community and environment.
Cities often pay to send trees to landfills when they are removed because of blight, lightning strikes, storm damage or other causes. But more are starting to use companies like Warmbold's to save money on tree disposal.
"We're all hard and heavy about having local food and local jobs and generating value-added products in the local community," said Alex Johnson, the urban forestry manager for Durham, N.C. "Why not have the same model be applied to the trees that grow in our cities?"
While more places are looking to recycle trees rather than send them to landfills, the movement is nascent. Some states, including California and North Carolina, have held statewide summits on using local lumber, and the Urban Wood Project started to reclaim trees in Southeast Michigan in 2005.
"What a lot of people in our position are trying to accomplish is turning the process on its head," Johnson said.
Durham has sold some of its downed trees to a local wood yard, making back some of the $12,500 it budgets each year for tree dumping.
Don Seawater, owner of Pacific Coast Lumber in San Luis Opisbo, Calif., said the cities of San Luis Opisbo and Morro Bay, Calif., give him some of their trees.
"The movement is kind of still building," Seawater said. "It's a resource that has been completely neglected for a long time and now is viable."
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is resurrecting an old program that brings saws and mills to local communities, allowing them to process trees that would otherwise be taken to a landfill.
"The importance lies in getting communities and municipalities to look at the resources they have, the aging resources of trees, and to look at it as life after death and not to think of it as green waste," said Jimi Scheid, an urban forester based in Sacramento, Calif. "It's kind of repositioning trees in our urban environment as something more than the value they add while they're standing."
In Newark, Warmbold said he grew up in the lumber business in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and has "sawdust in his veins." He said he saw the potential in New Jersey's trees after moving to the state decades ago.
Warmbold, a hulking man with a long, wiry beard, founded Citilog in 1991 with his wife, Maria, who previously owned a clothing boutique. He would collect trees at a lot in New Jersey, then drive them to a Pennsylvania sawmill for processing. The company now makes framing, flooring, furniture, fencing and other products.
He opened the urban sawmill, which straddles the border between Newark and East Orange, last year. He wants the four-acre sawmill to have minimal negative impact on the environment. It will get its electricity from a wood-powered system he's building and he'll fertilize a rooftop garden with waste diverted from the site's toilets.
Warmbold said he makes a point to hire employees from prison re-entry programs and hopes to create a community of skilled craftsmen and women who will learn woodworking skills, make products from the region's trees or be hired for custom work.
He said most of the trees at the sawmill come from nearby municipalities, businesses and universities. Warmbold said cities are allowed to drop off their trees free of charge; about nine do now and others, including Secaucus, will start in the coming weeks.
East Orange Mayor Robert L. Bowser said the city isn't donating all of its trees — it will continue to cut up small and immature trees — but hopes those it donates cuts down on the $60,000 the city budgets each year for tree removal.
"Overall it will save us loads of money," he said.