Lee Huss, an urban forester in Bloomington, Ind., says he works in a city that is tree crazy. In 1985, Bloomington earned the state’s first Tree City USA designation, which it has maintained for 23 years. Huss and his department are responsible for maintaining about 18,000 street trees and thousands more in the city parks.
“We don’t manage our trees for production like my counterparts do; public safety is really what we manage for,” says Huss. “I tell people my job is to remove a tree the day before it’s going to fall.”
About 85 percent of the trees the city takes down are worthless because they are “punky,” according to Huss, while another 12 percent of primarily low-grade logs are sent to local pallet mills.
“Then we get money dumped back into our system, which is used for [the remaining] three percent of the decent stuff that we either give away to woodworkers or we will pay someone with a Wood-Mizer to mill it and dry it. Our intent is to get the [good wood] in the hands of local woodworkers with the idea if they make something, and we give them enough wood, they can make three and maybe give us one back.”
One of those lucky woodworkers is Craig Mann, owner of Paradigm Furniture Design Studio in Indianapolis, who received a nice load of cherry from a storm-damaged tree that blew down at Cascades Municipal Golf Course in Bloomington. Mann used some of the cherry to build a Shaker-style table for the city and was allowed to keep the rest of the wood.
“I got the first batch of wood and basically worked it in as a project on the side and got everything coordinated here this spring,” says Mann. “It’s kind of a quid pro quo kind of thing. They’re trying to find good uses for the lumber that they’re able to save and this was a good way of helping them out with something that they could use.
“The original idea was to just have a simple display table and it was supposed to be going back into the golf course where the tree came from so they could have something like a functional table in the clubhouse. At some point along the way, it evolved more into a table that was going to go to the city. The Shaker table with the clean, simple design really lends itself to any sort of décor.”
The table is on display in a hallway at Bloomington City Hall and will likely end up in the Parks Department office. Huss will continue his job managing Bloomington’s trees and making another woodworker happy when he receives his next load of usable wood.
“My role as a professional forester is sustainability and making sure that the city has an urban forest after I’m gone,” Huss explains. “So I’m constantly evaluating our trees in the parks and streets and removing them in a timely basis and replanting new ones. So, that is sustainability and what drives a lot of what a forester does. We’re just trying to be a little more conscious of our wood waste utilization.”