Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Urban Wood

Monday, January 13, 2020


Wisconsin Behind the Scenes Blog Series: Urban Wood


The Northwoods isn’t the only place you’ll find trees in Wisconsin...we travelled to Milwaukee, where Chuck met up with the city urban forestry crew. Urban trees aren’t fundamentally different than trees in the wilderness; they’re just trees that happen to be growing right along the city streets. Dan Johnson, the crew leader, showed Chuck a tree that had been affected by Dutch Elm Disease.


Dutch elm disease has devastated the Wisconsin elm population since the 1960s. The disease, characterized by “dieback,” or death of outer twigs and branches, is caused by a fungus that clogs and stops the flow of water and nutrients from the roots to the canopy. This fungus depends on the elm bark beetle to spread from tree to tree. The beetle can carry as many as one million spores of the fungus, which quickly infect the next tree they feed on.


Milwaukee’s elms and other urban trees provide vital shade, improve air quality, and lend an aesthetic appeal to the busy city streets. But when these trees become damaged or diseased, they pose a much greater risk than rural trees on the city community and infrastructure, if only because of their proximity to power lines and homes.


We were able to witness and participate in two urban forestry operations: cutting some dead branches from the tree, and felling another tree. It’s a good thing Chuck knows a thing or two about chainsaws, because Dan sent him right up in a bucket with a little Stihl MS 200 chainsaw! We made sure our cameras were well out of the way, and Chuck went to town on whichever branches Dan maneuvered him to.


After this tree was sufficiently cut back, we drove a couple blocks to another forestry crew, led by Najjar Abdullah. This tree had already been limbed and was ready to be felled. Even before taking chainsaw to trunk, Najjar and his crew had connected their truck to the tree with a thick rope, so that when the time came, they could guide the tree down in the right direction, so as not to damage any houses or power lines.



What will happen to this urban tree? Even though dead trees on city streets endanger the people and homes around them, it doesn’t mean they can’t have a second life after they’re taken down. That’s the philosophy of Wisconsin Urban Wood, a nonprofit that educates consumers, contractors, and artisans about the sustainable appeal of urban trees. On our final day of filming, the crew filmed Urban Forest Fest, hosted at Lynden Sculpture Garden, a family-friendly annual festival of Wisconsin Urban Wood members, designed to educate the public directly about the importance of urban wood.


There were plenty of furniture makers and artisans, including Paul Morrison of The Wood Cycle, a shop that makes beautiful tables, chairs, and even lamp stands out of felled urban trees. The arborists of Hoppe Tree Service set up a “Kids Tree Climb”-- where they hoisted the little ones up into the wide branches of an elm tree, with harnesses and helmets just for them!



Dwayne Sperber, the organizer behind the event, gave us some insight into how Wisconsin is leading the way in the urban wood movement: “Wisconsin is a leader, naturally. Trees and forest products are a big part of our history. UW Stevens Point has one of the best forestry programs in the country. So we are all about wood here. I find it very natural that Wisconsin Urban Wood stepped up to recognize and respond to the abundance of trees. And we are becoming the model that's spreading across the country.”


It was great to see families learning about urban trees and how they can give this beautiful wood a second life!

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