“We never want to remove a tree unless it’s absolutely necessary. But if we do remove one, our goal is to salvage as much wood as we can,” Bill West, Roanoke Parks and Recreation Urban Forester, explains as we watch a bucket truck, carrying a man with a chainsaw, slowly rise to the top of a Black Oak.
Situated on the top of Mill Mountain, this Black Oak is located to the right of the Discovery Center in the Wild Flower Garden, which is to be rehabbed this year. The tree had been declining for a couple of years, and its precarious position between two paths—one leading toward the Mill Mountain Zoo, the other to the playground and smaller overlook—warranted removal.
The Urban Tree Renewal Program
Removing a tree is not a decision that is made lightly. The Urban Forestry Department takes great pains to preserve the City’s trees because of their value to Roanoke. The value takes many forms such as the stormwater it intercepts, the carbon it sequesters, and the air pollution it filters. However, when one must be removed, the department wants to ensure its removal is not in vain. This is where the Urban Tree Renewal Program comes into play.
Due to pockets of decay or damage or a species being undesirable for woodworking, many trees that are removed are only fit for mulching or the Firewood Program—a program where the City gives downed-tree wood to residents to haul away for free. The tree’s limbs and branches are chipped up and used as mulch on pathways. There are, however, trees that still have good wood in the trunks that should be utilized in a better way.
The City’s Forester and Tree Inspector tries to identify these trees. Once done, he makes arrangements with a local sawmill, St. Pierre Woodworking and Sawmill out of Floyd, Virginia, that only uses donated urban wood. St. Pierre will haul away good quality wood and turn it into a beautiful table, mantle, or even a sign. From each log donated to St. Pierre, he makes something for the City. Some examples of this exchange are live-edge signs and even a conference table. As for the rest? Mr. St. Pierre will use it to create a piece, or pieces, for other customers.
Ahead of the Curve
The Department of Forestry is encouraging municipalities across Virginia to establish similar programs to utilize wood from scheduled removals. Roanoke has one of the most active programs in the state; thus, a film crew is documenting the Black Oak renewal from start to finish. This film will be presented across the state and region in 2019 to highlight Roanoke’s efforts and what can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together.
While we stood atop the mountain that drizzly day, watching crews meticulously remove that large oak piece by piece, there was an ironic solace. While it was being cut down, this tree’s life was actually being extended far beyond what it would have been in its current home—it can now live on in someone’s home, in gardens throughout the city, and even atop Mill Mountain as a new sign for the Discovery Center.