Seeing The Forest For The Trees

Sacramento Tree Foundation’s Urban Wood Rescue program gives new life to urban lumber

Back Article Jan 24, 2019 By Joan Cusick

Like any forest, Sacramento’s urban forest is subject to vicissitudes of nature. Disease, pests, fires — any number of misfortunes can cause trees to die, be felled and require removal. The Sacramento Tree Foundation’s Urban Wood Rescue has a solution to prevent these urban trees from being neglected or summarily destroyed — a solution that gives back to local artisans and institutions, and provides a useful product where waste would otherwise win out.

Through the Urban Wood Rescue program, The Sacramento Tree Foundation is providing a new home for those landfill-bound trees, repurposing those trees as lumber and providing a service to organizations and artisans throughout the Sacramento area. One such customer that Sacramentans may be familiar with is the B Street Theatre; wood provided by the program makes up the striking blue-streaked paneling that lines the newly christened Sofia Tsakopoulos Center for Performing Arts.

“The B Street Theatre is one really large-scale project we did, The Sofia,” says Stephanie Robinson, the foundation’s communication and engagement manager, referring to the theater company’s new home in 2018. “We milled all of the acoustic paneling that you see on the inside.”

The Urban Wood Rescue program provided the B Street Theatre with beetle kill pine, also called “denim pine,” prized for the blue streaks that boring insects have left on the wood.

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Through partnerships with the City of Sacramento and several local tree companies who remove dead, sick and otherwise blighted trees, the program is able to repurpose lumber and sell it inexpensively to consumers and organizations in the area.

“We are thrilled to have partnered with the [Sacramento] Tree Foundation,” says Liz Liles-Brown, marketing and sales director of the B Street Theatre. “The beetle kill wood in our theaters not only provides a gorgeous esthetic; it also helps with the acoustics for our plays and musical concerts.“

First conceived by Sacramento Tree Foundation Executive Director Ray Tretheway with the goal of salvaging urban trees that needed to be removed for reasons of disease, public safety or construction, the Urban Wood Rescue project currently operates a 1-acre lumber yard and two mills — one for dimensional lumber and one for live-edge slabs that are popular in home decor and art.

The foundation secured funding to launch the program in April 2018 through a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection grant and is already planning to expand on its prodigiously successful first few months. “We are increasing our capacity to offer wood products to the public and to makers or designers who might be interested in having a sustainable, local product in their offerings,” Robinson says.

“Typically, that wood is either sent to the landfill, chipped into mulch or cut into firewood,” says Robinson. “It just seems like such a tragic end to a tree that had so much beauty and history, so [Ray] thought of this program as a way to complete the lifecycle and make sure that wood doesn’t go to waste,”

The Urban Wood Rescue project has allowed the foundation to repurpose landfill-bound wood — and in doing so, to eliminate carbon emissions, as well.

“By keeping that wood in its whole form and milling it into lumber or slabs,” Robinson says, “we continue sequestering that carbon for generations to come, and we give a more meaningful second life to these trees that are really dear to the heart of Sacramentans.”