Urban logging #1: A small victory in urban logging (part 1)

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Daren Nelson posted 05-23-2008 02:13 PM 14970 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Urban logging series Part 2: The start of some rustic cedar end tables »

I am an “Urban Logger”. I only mill trees from town. There is a reason for this. I am a tree hugger (yea really) Not the stereotype, insert your own mental picture here, that have given that title a negative connotation. BUT, I do love trees. I think they are magnificent. I know this sounds weird from a guy that runs a sawmill, you would think I just feel they are for me to chop down and mill and make money from. It’s not like that at all . I started sawmilling just to keep the ones that were already being killed from dying a pointless death. Working construction I saw huge piles of hardwoods on jobs burned/left to rot, it made me sad. The same with the great specimens I have seen in the towns I have lived in cut down and hauled off as waste. I felt that was almost a crime against nature to cut a tree that was 300 years old in a town and burn it, like my town for example that is only 175 years old…that tree was here before we were . We “grew up” around it, then cut it down.

I have nothing against traditional logging (if done properly, selective harvest), don’t get me wrong. I would never chain myself to a tree like what most people think of when they hear “tree hugger”. But somehow I feel if I mill these trees that were going to waste I am filling a little piece of the market and maybe one tree in the woods can stand. If I mill and sell an oak tree from a local town to a local woodworker, that guy will not buy wood from a tree that was harvested from nature some place else. Maybe an odd way to go about saving a tree, but it is the best I can do.

For another example of my love of trees I have access to log family timber full of mighty oaks. I see those trees and remember the time my cousin and I climbed up in the limbs and had a picnic. The nap I took under the tree on a beautiful fall afternoon. The first time I showed my wife the tree and explained that tree was most likely 500 years old. I live in an area that was heavily populated by native Americans (I have dozens of artifacts from the same acreage, arrow heads and such) To think that a man living off the land 400 years ago might have also rested in the shade of the same tree, hunted the squirrels that fed from the fruit of that tree…No amount of money in the world would make me think about cutting that tree down.

I am not going to shove this urban logging thing down your throat. But millions of dollars of lumber is being wasted every day by our cities (your tax money) The whole time the Fed is subsidizing logging companies, yea they are. I will not go into tariffs here on imported wood that is another subject. The flip side of government funding is “Tree Cities USA” in Illinois alone we have $82.4 million dollars on the books for planting trees in urban settings…care to guess how much they have set back for what to do with the 2 trees they cut down for every 1 they plant ? Or for the ones our grandfathers planted ? I will give you a hint $0. The plan is cut them down and burn them.

Finally I am going to get to my point. If you have read this far, thanks. After 5 years of beating my head against the wall I made contact with the right person. The webmaster has some tweaking to do with links and there will be more information soon. But right smack on the DNR page is an attention grabbing “Urban Forest Utilization” NEW.
The link takes you to a listing page that is also a work in progress. That page will provide information to people/municipalities on how and why to further utilize urban logs and has listings for sawmills like mine that will process them.

Basically this is state endorsement of what I do, and promotion through their site .They are working on pamphlets to educate local municipalities on why they should look into further utilization of their urban forests. I am not going to be able to mill every tree that gets removed in the state obviously…but maybe someone can. Now that “urban logging” is recognized and validated on a state governmental level it will bring more guys like myself out of the shadows. I would love to see a coop of sorts, a network of sawyers working together with communities to put these tree to good use. (and get them in the hands of woodworkers instead of piled and burned/ground for mulch/split for firewood)

I have sited this statistic before from The University of Illinois Forestry Dept. on timber acreage.

  • Forestland prior to European settlement – 13.8 million acres (40 percent)
  • Forestland today – 4.4 million acres (12 percent)
  • Illinois ranks 49th among states in percent of land remaining in original vegetation

We have cut alot of trees down in this state. There is real money being spent through “Tree City USA” to replant them in our cities and towns. It would be a shame to see them meet the same fate as the 9.4 million acres from the stats above. If you live in Illinois and care anything about this there is contact information on the link I provided. I don’t see anything but good coming from a note of support for this. If you are a sawyer in Illinois who will help me saw these logs you can be added to the list of sawmills on that page as well.

I know we have jocks from all over the country/world. If any of this blog strikes a cord with you, check with your state see what they are doing. If they are not doing anything…maybe you should. After many efforts (and I am going to throw a pun in here) and walking away feeling I was barking up the wrong tree, one little email paid off. One lady listened. Not only listened to my spiel, but asked questions. That opened a line of communication between us and the result was the pages on the Dept. of Natural Resources I linked and some people in the state capitol scratching their heads on how much more they can do in the way of putting our urban forests to a good use.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and of course I am available to help in any way I can if you have questions. I would love to see something like this in every state. Some are ahead of Illinois, Michigan is one of them . Do some checking maybe your state has something like this in place.

19 comments so far

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 4308 days

#1 posted 05-23-2008 02:41 PM

Thanks for the informative post Daren. Congratulations on your efforts. I too think trees are majestic. I am somewhere in the middle though. I have toured many paper mills and have seen their conservation efforts first hand. They tend to be good stewards. This is not always the case overseas. I am all for utilizing urban trees to their full potential and I applaud you on your efforts.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 4446 days

#2 posted 05-23-2008 03:08 PM

Don’t get me wrong in my standpoint. I am not “anti logging” proper forest management is vital to the health of the forest. Selective logging and proper stewardship make better forests, no doubt about it. I am ”anti-waste”, that is why I am personally an urban logger. The millions of BFT of usable wood products that are being wasted in this country through improper management of our urban forests is my concern. Here in this country there are strict laws to protect trees in nature and logging companies are highly regulated…but the same guy keeping on eye on those trees/parties involved in their harvest is letting the tree out side his office building get hauled to the burn pile when it gets removed . That was metaphorical of course, but trust me from my years of experience not too far from real life situations when dealing with governing bodies.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 4269 days

#3 posted 05-23-2008 03:10 PM

I’m pretty new to woodworking, but have just recently started to try to find local materials that are being collected in a responsible manor. Old finds in barns, or trees that needed to be removed anyway for safety of other similar reasons. Fortunately, I’m a slow worker so I don’t need much in the way of supply, but I would love it if I could find a guy like you in the Richmond, VA area. I’ve been looking, but haven’t found him/her yet.

I may still buy the occasional small boards or veneers from a store to try exotic woods in small quantities, but I do feel that it is important to stretch these, and any other resources as far as possible. I appreciate your work and congratulate you on the results. Keep fighting the good fight!

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 4356 days

#4 posted 05-23-2008 04:04 PM

Nice read. Thanks for taking the time to lay this out in black and white. My town is full of big street trees. the city has an arborist, but I still see trees piled up on the side of the road.

-- Scott - Chico California

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4426 days

#5 posted 05-23-2008 04:45 PM

Excellent post keep up the good work! Where are you from in Illinois, I live in Effingham County?

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4363 days

#6 posted 05-23-2008 05:02 PM


Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading this. I am on your side. It hurt when I had to have a cherry and two ash trees taken out 6 or 7 years ago and they went into firewood. The cherry had died the previously year was at least 80 years old and I am not sure about the ashes. I tried in vain to find someone to mill it up but couldn’t find anyone to do it. I think that there is (1) a lack of businesses such as yours available and (2) a general lack of visibility from those that are in the region.

I am all for converting these trees into usable lumber rather than seeing them go into firewood or burned or simply left to rot.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View johnjoiner's profile


160 posts in 4434 days

#7 posted 05-23-2008 05:04 PM

That’s very cool Daren.

I’ve wondered about some of those same issues here in the Minneapolis -St. Paul area. The sawyering thing isn’t for me as I’d rather spend the time on woodworking, and don’t have room to store much lumber. But I’ve found a couple of local sawyers and plan to support them.

Best of luck

-- johnjoiner

View SteveKorz's profile


2139 posts in 4255 days

#8 posted 05-23-2008 05:19 PM

Daren, I think what you’re doing is awesome. I’ve worked construction before, and I’ve seen so much waste. There were times that they would throw better stuff away than I would buy in Lowes. No one cared to take the time to plan for their materials. They made more money by simply being faster. The waste that was generated was apalling. I think what you are doing is fantastic. It’s time we step up to the plate and respect out resources.

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

View Daren Nelson's profile

Daren Nelson

767 posts in 4446 days

#9 posted 05-23-2008 06:14 PM

Here is a quote from “Utilizing municipal trees from around the country” Stephen M. Bratkovich

“In the United States over 200 million cubic yards of urban tree and landscape residue are generated every year. Of this amount, 15 percent is classified as “unchipped logs.” To put this figure in perspective, consider that if these logs were sawn into boards, they theoretically would produce 3.8 billion board feet of lumber, or nearly 30 percent of the hardwood lumber produced annually in the United States.

The staggering number of tree removals in cities and towns across the country becomes necessary for a host of reasons. Storm blowdowns, natural mortality, severe insect and disease damage, construction activities, and many other circumstances can change an urban tree from an asset into a liability. Municipalities are faced not only with the volume of tree removals but with the associated financial costs as well. Rising labor and transportation costs, increased landfill or tipping fees, and lost opportunity costs (money that cannot be spent elsewhere in the community) create a financial burden for managers of municipal tree programs. Even if disposal costs were not an issue, landfill space is dwindling, and tree disposal in landfills has been either outlawed or reduced by regulations in many States.

Meanwhile, the American appetite for wood continues to grow. Although net growth on commercial U.S. forestlands exceeds harvest by about one-third, our nation is still a net importer of forest products. The utilization (recycling) of municipal trees can contribute to the conservation of forestland resources by generating wood products from trees that need to be removed anyway.”

The whole thing is an interesting read in my opinion.

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4051 posts in 4605 days

#10 posted 05-23-2008 06:58 PM

Great blog and a very worthy concern. Thanks, Daren!

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 4562 days

#11 posted 05-23-2008 07:43 PM

The CBC today had an interesting piece on the damages of the powder post beetle up here.
The devastation in British Columbia alone would take 14 million logging trucks just to haul away the damaged trees.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View Dusty56's profile


11852 posts in 4229 days

#12 posted 05-24-2008 06:21 AM

I wish that I could afford the equipment to mill my own lumber and use up the trees that I see getting hauled to the landfill in my city…..such a waste : ( Great article you have posted here : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4538 days

#13 posted 05-24-2008 06:34 AM

You’ve got my support – as you know…

That’s great that you were able to communicate with the DNR folks and get them started thinking more about urban logging…and ways to connect others to urban loggers…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3434 posts in 4253 days

#14 posted 05-24-2008 06:35 AM


I think it’s great what you are doing. We live in the country and have a sawyer with portable mill come in and saw our dead oaks and aspen, but it isn’t possible to get anyone to saw a tree that was in close proximity to the homestead. Unfortunately, over the years people often drive nails into trees to hang things, attach fences to trees, or any number of other practices which are a great risk to saw blades. In urban areas, there is an increased chance of imbedded metal in the tree. We hope you have a very good metal detector to save yourself money in the long-run for blade replacement. What you are doing is a huge encouragement to all of us woodworkers.

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4628 days

#15 posted 05-24-2008 01:42 PM

Daren, this is a great story.

Fortunately, it only took 5 years to get your elected officials to recognize the truth when it hit them.
Most of the elected folks where I live wouldn’t even get around to thinking about this for 10 years, then 10 more before they acted on it.

Why do we elect such stupid people?

My $.03


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

showing 1 through 15 of 19 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics