Lincoln students find use for ash trees
Aug. 18, 2018
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Woodworking students will be part of the local ash tree solution this fall, making side tables from some of the trees chopped down last year in Lincoln.
About 700 board feet of ash will be available to high school students in Lincoln as part of a joint project with the city, the Nebraska Forest Service and the school district.
Industrial technology teacher Kevin Hennecke began researching the idea after seeing a newspaper story encouraging people to come up with ideas for using wood from the thousands of ash trees that are in the path of the future emerald ash borer devastation.
Eventually, Lincoln Public Schools administrators got involved and "things started clicking," said Hennecke, who expects to see much of that wood turned into side tables by beginning students.
"The wood is going to end up in kids' hands and I'm like, this is awesome. Awesome," he said.
"This is a great use of that lumber, instead of mulching it," said Stan Haas, assistant curriculum specialist for career and technical education, who helped make arrangements for the coordinated project that will turn more than a dozen trees into 70 side tables.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the trees, cut down by the city as it removes and replaces ash trees in anticipation of the emerald ash borer, were milled and dried by the Nebraska Forest Service using a portable sawmill it has available for pilot projects.
The milled lumber will go to several Lincoln high schools, to be used primarily by low-income students who have trouble paying for the wood used in their woodworking projects.
The free wood means more students will be able to take their project home, said Hennecke. Too often, students say they don't want the tables they make, but in truth they often can't afford to pay for the wood used in the project, he said.
The LPS ash project is one of the pilot projects that Adam Smith, Nebraska Forest Service forest products program leader, hopes will lead to more ideas, more uses and perhaps encourage an "ash champion," someone willing to start a local milling business.
There are others looking for ways to promote the use of the thousands of ash trees that likely will be cut down in Lincoln, along city streets and in private yards.
Cornhusker State Industries used Lincoln ash trees to make the furniture in a room at the Honu House, a short-term home for people with mental health issues coming out of prison.
And the prison-based industry would love to find other customers to partner with for ash products, said Jeremy Elder, deputy director of Cornhusker State Industries.
Cornhusker State Industries can sell to other governments or to nonprofits.
Jewel Rodgers, a student, activist and community builder for the South of Downtown Community Development Organization, has spoken passionately about the need to find uses for the ash trees at several city meetings.
"I have spent months to no avail, attempting to bring attention to this mindless waste of a material that could be utilized to produce housing, home improvements, ADA accessibility equipment, sporting goods, organic composting as well as generating electricity, fencing, flooring, plastics, solvents, woodworker's inventory, musical instruments, hand tools and playgrounds," Rodgers told the City Council at a recent meeting.
South of downtown there is a need for new porches, more bus shelters, public benches — all potential uses for ash, she said.
"As a community canvasser in this neighborhood, I can tell you that many residents, particularly property owners, could use this wood," she said.
The city of Lincoln needs to be an example for other cities by putting in place a system for harvesting urban lumber, she said.
What Lincoln needs is someone with a passion willing to provide a sawmill business, Smith said.
It takes someone who will be a champion, an entrepreneur who wants to see this wood being used and who has a full view of what it takes to get from a standing tree to a finished piece, he said.
"Businesses in other cities have shown you can be successful at it. But it takes the right person," he said.
Currently, much of the ash wood from city trees is turned into wood chips. Though none of it is heading to the landfill, which may happen in the future during the emerald ash borer epidemic, when the city is likely to be inundated with wood from dying trees.
It is likely that much of the ash wood will become mulch, said Lynn Johnson, Parks and Recreation director. Once the ash borer is discovered in Lincoln, wood will not be allowed to be transported outside the quarantine area, unless it is very small wood chips, he said.
The city has gotten calls lately from people saying, "why are you making wood chips out of this," said Lorri Grueber, community outreach forester.
Grueber understands that ash wood is beautiful. "It is absolutely gorgeous wood."
But wood chips are good, too, she said. "There is nothing wrong with wood chips. This is not a bad thing."
The chips are used as mulch, to prevent weeds, keep the soil from drying out, act as a barrier between lawn mowers and the tree trunk and add organic matter back into the soil, she said.
Small ash trees are destined to be mulch or firewood because they have little value for milling. A tree has to be greater than 9 inches for milling, Smith said.
The city will provide wood to people interested in using it, including local woodworkers and woodturners.
"We are entirely open for new partners and encourage people to call us if they have a use for the wood," Grueber said.
The city is removing and replacing 700 to 900 trees a year, generally small, young trees, 6 to 10 inches in diameter, in anticipation of the emerald ash borer's arrival.
The emerald ash borer, whose larva eats under the bark of an ash tree and kills it in just a few years, has been spotted within 16 miles of Lincoln, and most experts believe the insect is already here.
The early removal of ash trees helps ease the impact of tree removal during the height of the ash borer epidemic.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com