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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" and the role that urban wood can play in achieving a city's economic, social, and environmental sustainability goals.

Wood is an abundant, renewable resource--we should use it more. The Baltimore Wood Project brings new partners and ideas together to be smarter and more thoughtful about urban wood “waste” in the city. Rethinking Baltimore's wood waste streams can save money, create jobs, provide green materials and beautifully reclaimed products, help transform blight into green space, and help the city achieve its vision of a sustainable future.

The Baltimore Wood Project involves several project components, described below. Beyond providing one-off programs, resources, or technical assistance, the Forest Service has woven together the Urban Wood & Restoration Economy Business Model that then attracts private sector businesses willing to source and/or invest, and creates a self-reinforcing economy that enables land reclamation and ecosystem restoration, promotes economic development (jobs, businesses, and markets), and improves lives, in urban areas. We are working to prototype the Urban Wood Economy Business Model beyond the pilot city of Baltimore.

The Baltimore Wood Project involves several project components:
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Count - This is the process of assessing the city’s urban wood resources.  We’re taking stock of Baltimore’s wood inventory and what is normally considered wood “waste”-- both salvageable wood from a typical rowhouse, and woody biomass from tree trimmings and storm debris.

  • 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 Generate - Urban wood waste is a waste by-product of certain activities such as tree care operations, land development, and building demolition. Unlike traditional forestry, in which trees are managed as a crop for harvest, urban wood waste utilization is waste stream diversion.  Strategically diverting waste can create opportunities for the next component - Salvage.
  • 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 Salvage - Salvage is diverting the wood material from the waste stream -- “saving it from the dump”. How the material is generated and salvaged determines how it can be used later.  You can make firewood out of saw timber, but you can’t make lumber out of firewood.
  • R&D has produced research and publications that are critical to informing salvage operations.
  • Urban FIA can help track wood coming from salvage operations
  • R&D conducts 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”.  NRS research examines how green investments in neighborhoods and communities can transform economies, safety, and human and ecological health. GROW Centers and the Green Pattern Book are critical to land reclamation.
icon - crane lifts large beam Sort - The way that wood waste materials are generated and salvaged often does not allow for them to be sorted in the field. This is particularly true of fresh cut wood waste. These materials need to be sorted into piles of like material and aggregated for processing.

  • R&D partnership-building facilitates previously unrealized connections to unleash efficiencies in sorting leading to revenue-generating urban wood economies of scale.
  • Urban FIA can help track sorting operations
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Process - 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 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).
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Produce - 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.

  • 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.
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Consume - This is the part where the goods go to market and are sold and used. How this process occurs will depend on the supply chain.

  • Forest Service science exchange activities and field tours showcase the above steps, leading to end-use or consumption; this has enabled stakeholders, partners, and investors to understand and help us continue building the vision.  
  • 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.
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Restore - 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 (Green Resources and Outreach for Watersheds) Centers 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 Stewardship Mapping (STEW-MAP), enables communities to make smart investments, generate efficiencies, and quantify outcomes.
  • Forest Service engagement in the Federal Urban Waters Partnership provides actionable science and leverages coordinated investments in green infrastructure.

Visit the Baltimore Wood Project website »

Learn more about our work in Baltimore »