Re-Purposing Beetle-Damaged Urban Ash Trees in the Midwest

In recent years, we’ve had troubles here in British Columbia with the pine beetle.  Due to the warmer winter months thanks to global climate change, the population of pine beetles has exploded.   The results are devastating, with acres and acres of pine forest decimated.

Emerald Ash Borer BeetleSimilarly in the Midwest United States, another species of beetle – the emerald ash borer beetle – is wreaking similar havoc, feasting on the ash trees in Michigan and Illinois at an incredible rate, including in urban areas.  The adult beetles eat the leaves of the trees – no problem.  But, the larva of the beetle burrows into the wood, which is what endangers the health of the tree.  It’s getting to the point that no ash tree in the region remains completely untouched.

The short-term answer to the problem in urban areas has been to take the trees down, and turn the wood into mulch. But, furniture makers, designers, and architects have other ideas about how best to utilize ash wood so as to make best use of the resource.

Here’s an article about urban trees in the Midwest.   Wood taken from unhealthy ash trees is still perfectly suited for use as building materials and furniture.  Since the emerald ash bore beetle only burrows one-quarter inch into the wood, the rest of the wood is re-usable.  And because urban trees are pruned frequently, the knots in the wood make for distinctive patterns which furniture makers and designers are looking for.

The efforts are now centered on marketing the new lines of products made from salvaged ash hardwood.  After all, without visibility, there’s no demand, no sales, and no alternate means of reusing the wood, which is otherwise hearty enough for any application you can name.  To address this,  the CFDA (Chiago Furniture Designers Association) have organised a campaign along with a number of other local sponsers surrounding the promotion of these relatively new goods on the market.  It’s called, cleverly, Rising From the Ashes.

I think this is a fantastic idea, since the trees in question would otherwise be removed anyway.  In this sense, Midwest ash can be counted as reclaimed hardwood, with the potential to add LEED points to building projects too.  Of course, thinking on a grander scale in terms of global climate change, one would hope that the rising populations of beetles is also a problem that can be solved by thinking of ways to curb climate changing factors such as pollution.  I wonder how the populations of  beetles correspond with warmer winters in that region, for instance.



Emerald ash borer beetle image courtesy of Benimoto.  This one is called “Emmy”.  This kind of beetle-mania, we can do without.

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