Utilizing Municipal Trees
Tree Service Firms



Jim Cook, owner of Able Tree Service, has 30 years experience in the tree care business. His firm in Missoula, Montana (population 60,000) provides all of the services one would expect: pruning, cabling and bracing, transplanting, pest management, soil therapy, young tree culture, and tree removal. One service that sets Cook apart is his creation of a “wood artisan network” to which he supplies free wood. If a log is too big to chip and turn into mulch (greater than 12 inches in diameter) and has value-added potential beyond firewood, then Cook turns to this network to find new life for the wood.

“I want to encourage a market for municipal trees…”

Artisan Network

Soon after founding Able Tree Service in 1982 Cook realized that many of the trees he removed for homeowners contained valuable lumber that could be transformed into value-added products. Cook also realized that many local artisans were constantly seeking wood for their next project. Over a period of years he developed a database of approximately 40 artisans who use wood and live in Missoula and the surrounding valley. The database contains information such as the artisan’s address and phone number, the product made, and the wood species preferred. One of Cook’s objectives is to match the artisans with the appropriate wood species from his tree removal projects.

Currently, a wide range of products is made from Missoula trees by local artisans. For example, Cook has supplied basswood to a carver of carousel horses, blue-stained ponderosa pine to a log furniture builder, white birch to a lath crafter, and various hardwood species to a turner of wooden bowls. The University of Montana Extension Service has taken note of Cook’s expanding artisan network and plans to develop a computer web page to support his effort.

Cook also has stockpiled some trees and logs for future projects, although it is a guess what the future holds. Some of the hollow logs, for example, “might be used by local science teachers,” says Cook.

Tree removal.

Cross section of elm cutting.
Large urban trees such as elm often produce beautiful lumber sought by artisans. Photos by Roger Bergmeier

Girl on carousel horse.Free Wood Encourages Market Development

Cook believes that someday a market might develop that would enable him to sell many of his tree removals. “I want to encourage a market for municipal trees that are removed due to pest problems, storm damage, or old age. Right now, giving the wood away to artisans is the best thing I can do,” noted Cook.

For additional information:

Jim Cook
Able Tree Service
300 South Garfield #4
Missoula, MT 59801
Phone 406-549-9310
A basswood carousel horse inspires and delights. Photo by Theresa Cox




In 1997 Kerry Burruss entered the tree trimming and removal business in eastern Kansas with pre-owned equipment and high expectations. One day he was asked by a homeowner to remove a healthy 28-inch diameter red oak tree. His reaction was one of disbelief because he saw no apparent reason to remove the tree. The homeowner had his mind set, however, so Burruss eventually did cut down the tree. After a difficult search he found a custom sawmiller who agreed to mill the butt (bottom) log of the tree. Burruss recovered some of the milled lumber, which was converted into various pieces of furniture. This incident caused Burruss to rethink his own business, eventually leading him to apply for a state grant and purchase a Timber King portable sawmill.

“The pole sawing has given me a steady source of income.”

Utility Pole.At the same time, only 10 miles away in Topeka, Kansas, Brad Loveless, Senior Manager of Biology and Conservation Programs for Western Resources, was facing his own wood utilization dilemma. Western Resources, a utility company serving over 600,000 customers, is continually removing old utility poles and replacing them with new ones. The traditional practice of disposing of the old 50- to 80-foot poles in landfills incurred significant transportation expense. Loveless and some of his coworkers were troubled by this seemingly wasteful practice. Loveless investigated the possibilities of milling the discarded utility poles into lumber, and his search eventually lead him to Kerry Burruss.

Business Arrangement Benefits Both Parties

In 1999 Burruss’s company, Trees-n-More, and Western Resources entered into a business arrangement that has been beneficial to both parties. Loveless arranged for the old utility poles to be delivered, on a back-haul, to Western Resources’ new-pole yard. Burruss set up his portable mill at the yard where he does custom sawing of the western red cedar, southern yellow pine, and Douglas-fir poles. Loveless says the arrangement is working well, “I give Kerry a list of dimensions to saw for and he takes it from there, sawing each piece to the specified width and thickness.” As of summer 2000, Western Resources had recycled 39,000 board feet of lumber and saved more than $77,000 in pole transportation and disposal costs.

western redcedar poles are sawn into various lumber dimensions.
Western redcedar poles are sawn into various lumber dimensions on a portable sawmill. Photo by Kerry Burruss

Products From Old Poles

Kits and finished nest boxes for bluebirds, kestrels, wood ducks, and bats are a few of a dozen or so products produced from the old poles. During 1999 and 2000 over 2,600 nest box kits, made from the untreated portions of cedar poles, were given to and assembled by employees, local scout troops, schools, and 4-H clubs for habitat improvement projects. Other products constructed from lumber milled from the recycled poles include foot bridges, wildlife-viewing platforms and blinds, picnic tables, and shelters at schools, parks, refuges, and environmental education areas. Occasionally a project requires lumber thicker than 1 inch, such as an environmental education area shelter that used Douglas-fir timbers. “The shelter had 8- by 8-inch timbers that were 12 feet in length. The 3- by 12-inch stringers were 16 feet long,” Loveless boasts.

Lumber milled from utility poles is donated to build this viewing platform.
Lumber milled from utility poles is donated for local projects, such as this wildlife viewing platform. Photo by Brad Loveless

No problems have been encountered with residual preservative in the milled poles. “We avoid using the heavily treated butt ends of poles unless the product will be used in a ground application,” notes Loveless.

Sawing Complements Tree Service Work

From Burruss’s perspective the arrangement with Western Resources suits him just fine: “I’m able to do tree trimming and removal a couple days a week and sawing the other days. The pole sawing has given me a steady source of income.”

In addition to his utility pole sawing, Burruss continues to grow the other parts of his business. He has added a solar kiln to dry lumber milled from logs obtained from tree removal projects. The lumber is planed at a local cabinet shop, and species such as oak, ash, and walnut are sold to furniture builders and high school shop classes.

Burruss notes, “I like the tree service work I do; however, it’s the custom sawing for Western Resources and other folks that is my long-term goal.”

For additional information:



Kerry Burruss
2245 SE 61st St.
Berryton, KS 66409
Phone 785-862-1124
Brad Loveless
Western Resources
818 S. Kansas Ave.
P.O. Box 889
Topeka, KS 66601
Phone 785-575-8115
E-mail brad_loveless@wr.com




“We used to see it as trash,” says Andy Trotter, “but now we see it as a product.” “It” is the residue, such as logs, from Trotter’s tree care business. Trotter is Vice-President of West Coast Arborists, which is headquartered in Anaheim, California. The company employs over 350 people and has annual tree care contracts with 90 municipalities in southern California.

Firewood used to be the primary outlet for the larger logs and branches from tree removal and trimming projects. “Our business doubled in 5 years, and the firewood dealers we supplied couldn’t keep up with the quantity we generated,” says Trotter. “Plus, we were looking for an environmentally friendly alternative to filling our landfills with wood residue.”

In 1999 the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) loaned a portable sawmill to West Coast Arborists to encourage and demonstrate municipal tree utilization (see p. 9). The unit was used to mill hardwood lumber from logs that traditionally would have been sent to a landfill, chipped, or converted to firewood. The high quality of the lumber produced and a growing regional interest in expanding the California hardwood industry convinced the management of West Coast Arborists to purchase their own mill. Trotter says, “The CDF loaner mill was instrumental in getting us started full-time on our own utilization program.”

Producing Lumber

A Wood-Mizer LT40 portable sawmill ($35,000) and a Nyle dehumidification dry kiln ($14,000) with an 8,000-board-foot capacity are the cornerstones of West Coast Arborists’ sawlog utilization program. Two employees are dedicated full-time to producing about 800 board feet of lumber per day. “The mill is capable of higher daily production,” says Trotter, “but log size, shape, and nails slow us down.” One solution to the nail problem, in addition to using a metal detector, is West Coast’s use of bimetal saw blades that can cut through about 30 nails before dulling.

A downed tree being readied for the saw mill.
Once considered trash and destined for the landfill, downed street trees are now salvaged and milled into usable lumber. Photo by Jeff Melin

“We need to spread the word about the potential of urban tree use.”

Drying Lumber

After the better sawlogs are milled on the Wood-Mizer, the lumber is air dried for 2 to 10 months. After air drying, some species, such as ash and elm, need only 5 days in the dry kiln to reduce the moisture content to 6 to 8 percent. “This is all new to us, but we’re learning the drying characteristics of various woods,” Trotter noted.


The lumber marketing portion of West Coast Arborists’ program has been assigned to Mike Easterling, owner of a new start-up firm called East-West Urban Forest Products. Easterling sells West Coast’s lumber to various outlets including woodworkers, school industrial arts programs, and hardwood retailers. Easterling says, “Black acacia, carob, and Carolina cherry are colorful woods and sell very well. Also, schools are willing to take a variety of species, which works well for us.” Easterling has two part-time sales people to help with the lumber marketing. He has acquired a “rediscovered wood products” lumber label that he hopes to use as a positive marketing tool.

Value-Added Products

Easterling also builds value-added products like park benches and picnic tables from West Coast’s lumber. The benches are sold to the communities from which the trees came, which completes the “recycling loop.”


Because over 300 tons of green residue are generated daily by West Coast Arborists, Trotter and Easterling are networking with others interested in municipal tree utilization. Logs are often delivered to mills in Southern California with similar utilization objectives, since West Coast cannot mill and sell all the potential lumber from their residue stream.

Park bench made from ash and black acacia.
Park benches, such as this one from ash and black acacia, are often sold to the communities from which the trees came. Photo by Jeff Melin

The wood utilization program grew to the point where West Coast Arborists hired a full-time recycling coordinator, Jeff Melin. Melin is responsible for the flow of hundreds of tons of green waste produced each day, including the use and marketing of sawlogs and other wood materials.

Trotter admits that the wood utilization project currently is a “catchy tune” with customers and his firm’s top management, and that lumber sales need to improve for the program to pay for itself. “Everyone has a good feeling about using recycled materials,” he says. “We need to spread the word about the potential of urban tree use.”

For additional information:

Andrew Trotter
West Coast Arborists, Inc.
2200 E. Via Burton St.
Anaheim, CA 92806
Phone 714-991-1900
E-mail atrotter@wcainc.com


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