You are here: Home / Research Topics / Resource Management & Use / Urban Research / Popular Topics / Baltimore Wood Project

Baltimore Wood Project

Through the Baltimore Wood Project, Forest Service Research & Development (R&D) and State & Private Forestry (S&PF) are working together with partners to rethink the value of what many consider to be urban wood "waste." Through this shared stewardship initiative, we are using urban wood as a catalyst toward achieving economic, social, and environmental sustainability goals. Beyond providing one-off resources or technical assistance, the Forest Service is building a large-scale networked regional economy across boundaries, including bridging levels of government, sectors of the economy including public, private, and social enterprise, and urban and rural communities.  This economic development around wood and land restoration attracts private sector businesses willing to source and invest, and creates a self-reinforcing economy that is rooted in reclaiming wood, lives, and neighborhoods in urban and rural areas. Baltimore is the pilot, and this model of shared stewardship is suitable for replication in any community struggling with similar challenges.  Rethinking wood waste streams can save money, create jobs, provide green materials and beautifully reclaimed products, help transform blight into green space, and help support the U.S. wood industry while creating a more sustainable future.

Baltimore Wood Project Framework

Select each of the headers to expand content...

icon- clipboard with checklist

Using Urban Forest Inventory and Analysis (Urban FIA) and other inventory data, the Forest Service is taking stock of Baltimore’s wood inventory and what is normally considered wood “waste”. This includes both salvageable wood from vacant buildings and woody materials from tree removals, pruning, utility maintenance, and land clearing.

  • The Forest Service has helped define the parameters around developing an urban wood inventory (Urban FIA). There is often no other single entity with the breadth of vision that is willing to initiate city-wide inventories of urban wood that can lead to the development of an urban wood economy.
icon - urban building and tree

Urban wood waste is a by-product of certain activities such as tree care operations, land development, and building deconstruction. Unlike traditional forestry, in which trees are managed as a crop for harvest, urban wood waste utilization diverts wood from the waste stream and begins the process for wood waste to be converted into wealth.

  • Using Urban FIA and the Stewardship Mapping (STEW-MAP) inventory and survey framework, R&D conducts research to understand how the generators, processors, and producers are connected.
icon- truck loaded with logs from urban trees or beams from deconstructed buildings

The Forest Service is designing ways to recover good wood from buildings before they come down, and collect “fresh cut” wood from tree removals, pruning, and land clearing, to save it all from becoming waste.

  • The R&D Forest Products Lab has produced research and publications that are critical to informing salvage operations.
  • Urban FIA can help track wood coming from salvage operations.
  • R&D is conducting social, economic, and environmental assessment of outcomes and performance of urban wood utilization and land reclamation. This is critical for attracting private investments and building public-private partnerships. Beyond urban wood, land reclamation is considered a component of “salvage”.
icon - crane lifts large beam

The way that wood waste materials, particularly fresh cut wood waste, are generated and salvaged often does not allow for the wood materials to be sorted at the worksite. Often, there is a large amount of low-quality material and a small amount of high-quality material. Sorting is the key to capturing and maximizing value.

  • R&D partnership-building facilitates previously unrealized connections to unleash efficiencies in sorting leading to revenue-generating urban wood economies of scale.
icon - stacked lumber

Once material is sorted, it can be processed. Primary processing is the first step in taking raw plant material and preparing it for use as is, or for secondary processing into finished products. Fresh cut requires primary processing; deconstructed material often requires additional processing to restore or alter the finish before it can be remade into finished products.

  • Using Urban FIA and the Stewardship Mapping (STEW-MAP) inventory and survey framework, R&D conducts research to understand how the generators, processors, and producers are connected.
  • R&D resources and technical expertise at the Forest Products Lab and Wood Education Resource Center can enable urban wood processing at sort yards or other locations, including kilns for drying wood at faster rates and retaining wood quality.
  • R&D examines urban wood processors to determine who is moving wood (and what type: deconstruct and fresh cut) and how much (volumes).
icon - procesing mill

Production, or secondary processing, is taking the woody material after it has been sawn, dried, shredded, split, ground, etc. and making it into a product for sale or consumption. Building a reliable and robust supply chain and attracting national investors and buyers is a key to scaling from a boutique operation to an urban wood economy, and the USDA Forest Service, Humanim, and the City of Baltimore are partnering particularly effectively to do this.

  • Using Urban FIA and the Stewardship Mapping (STEW-MAP) inventory and survey framework, R&D conducts research to understand how the generators, processors, and producers are connected.
icon - procesing mill

Once produced, the goods go to market and are sold and used. How this process occurs will depend on the supply chain. Consume is a very important aspect of the urban wood flows model – if no one buys it at a profitable, self-sustaining scale, it’s a hobby rather than a business.

  • In 2017, the Forest Service initiated and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Room & Board, a national retailer that creates handcrafted, American-made, modern furniture and shares a vision of supporting wood markets and local livelihoods. Room & Board has launched a special line of furniture products using Baltimore-sourced wood, called Urban Wood Project: Baltimore. The product line will showcase the value of urban wood and the many social, economic, and environmental benefits of a vibrant urban forest products economy.
Icon - green tree

This is the final part of the life cycle that takes place after and in addition to rethinking wood waste. It involves the question of “what comes next” on deconstructed and vacant lots, as well as on land where fresh cut trees have come down. Restoring land by planting new trees and creating green space has myriad benefits to public health, safety, crime, as well as to a community’s economy and to watershed health.

  • The Forest Service supported the city-led development of the Green Pattern Book & Registry.
  • The Forest Service (R&D and S&PF) is working with the city of Baltimore to create GROW Centers (Green Resources and Outreach for Watersheds) that link residents, congregations, non-profits, and existing community greening networks to sources of free/low cost materials and technical expertise for green stormwater management infrastructure and vacant lot revitalization.
  • Advanced mapping, including the Urban Tree Canopy (UTC) suite of tools and Stewardship Mapping (STEW-MAP) can inform communities to make smart investments and generate efficiencies.
  • Forest Service engagement in the Federal Urban Waters Partnership provides actionable science and leverages coordinated investments in green infrastructure.

The Urban Wood Academy is a multi-day workshop hosted by the Forest Service, Humanim, and the City of Baltimore that is designed to share best practices, operating principles, key components, and lessons learned necessary to replicate building a regional wood economy around building a networked, regional wood economy. The target audience includes forestry professionals and social entrepreneurs. The first academy will be hosted in Baltimore, MD in December of 2018.  It is likely that we will host additional academies on an ongoing, annual basis. For more information, please email or visit www.baltimorewoodproject.org.

  • Room & Board - In 2017, the USDA Forest Service formalized a partnership with Room & Board, a national retailer that creates handcrafted, American-made, modern furniture and shares a vision of supporting the national wood industry and local jobs and livelihoods in rural and urban areas. Room & Board has launched a special line of furniture products using Baltimore-sourced wood, with much of the manufacturing connected to and carried out by small producers in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, though some pieces are also being made at Baltimore’s Open Works. These products showcase the value of urban wood and the many social, economic, and environmental benefits of a vibrant U.S. wood industry. The partnership was recently featured on the front page of USA Today and on NBC Nightly News.
  • The USDA Forest Service, Humanim, and the City of Baltimore are working with social-impact investment firm Quantified Ventures to diversify resources, scale impact, and replicate the urban wood economy to create jobs, promote sustainability, and support the national wood industry in other post-industrial cities. This has resulted in the state of Maryland’s commitment to scale up the work in Baltimore to create greater economic, social, environmental, and health benefits, and improve quality of life for residents.
  • Hines, S.J., Srinivasan, N., Marshall, L., Grove, J.M. 2018. “Reclaiming Wood, Lives, and Communities: How do we turn an urban wood waste stream into an asset that revitalizes cities?” In press. - Coming soon!
  • Galvin, M. Grove, J.M., Hines, S.J.; Marshall, L. 2018. The Urban Wood Workbook: A Framework from the Baltimore Wood Project. In press - to be published as a Northern Research Station general technical report. In press - Coming soon!
  • Humanim
  • City of Baltimore

Visit the Baltimore Wood Project website »

Learn more about our work in Baltimore »