Foundation Blogs


first of a series 

The traditional forest sector includes practices and enterprises that are primarily engaged in rural forest management, commercial timber harvesting, and established products and markets. The urban forest sector can be contrasted with the traditional forest sector in many ways. The urban forest sector is by definition primarily engaged in tree care and green space stewardship in urban settings and developed areas. Within these settings, tree removal is often done in response to factors other than timber market demand, including development activities, infrastructure repair or construction, and forest health, safety and transportation concerns. It is common that wood from urban areas is handled as a waste product with associated disposal costs and an end-of-life outcome that may include landfilling or combustion (without energy capture). Developing landscapes that are part of the Wildland-Urban Interface often do not comfortably align with either traditional forestry or urban forestry practices and contain a growing segment of forest owners with less than 10 acres of forest. 

A unique dimension of urban forest sector enterprises is the inclusion of wood resources from trees (i.e., fresh cut, roundwood) as well as from the salvaging of materials from the built environment through deconstruction activities. The innovative partnerships and efforts in Baltimore City are a leading national example of innovation to support the use of these two types of urban wood sources. Some sustainability advocates have even begun to include the collection and recycling of paper materials within our cities and communities as part of their description of the urban forest and our nation’s fiber supply. 

The traditional forest sector in Maryland and throughout the U.S. has experienced significant disruptions and declines in many markets in recent years, especially in the aftermath of the economic recession and housing market collapse of the late 2000s. The U.S. global share of industrial roundwood production, used for solid wood products (lumber and wood panels) and pulp and paper, peaked at 28 percent in 1999, hit a low of 17 percent in 2009.3 In contrast to the traditional forest sector, in recent years urban forest sector enterprises have been experiencing growth, expansion, and diversification. Estimates of urban wood supplies are increasingly available. The most recent studies suggest annual urban wood removals in the U.S. equates to about 46 million tons of fresh-weight merchantable wood or 7.2 billion board feet of lumber or 16 million cords of firewood. The potential annual value from urban wood waste ranges between $89-786 million depending upon the product derived (e.g., woodchips to lumber).

Nearly all of the forestland in Maryland and much of the Eastern U.S. is capable of growing trees and producing timber that is suitable for wood products. Maryland’s forests today contain more large trees with increased volume than they did at the turn of the 20th century.

The traditional forest products industry has much it can teach urban wood companies about efficient and effective operations, including the technical details of grading, sawing, drying and manufacturing. The technical experts, service providers, and educators within the traditional forest sector also have the knowledge and experience to address the interests of at least some urban wood producers that want to grow from niche marketing to scaled-up operations across the Wildland Urban Interface that can be more economically viable and provide greater community benefit, particularly among landowners who have less than 10 acres of forest. At the same time, the urban forest sector has much to offer the traditional forest sector as well, including access to additional fiber supplies that can include significant volumes of material as well as unique species and even larger dimensions of roundwood that are not generally available. The urban forest sector also benefits from a strong sustainability reputation amongst consumers that can help change public perception of the forest sector as a whole.  The MFF will work with partners to bring these two sectors in Maryland into greater dialogue in 2021.