By Michelle Werts

Trees don’t live forever.

It’s a shocking statement, I know, but beyond old age, trees combat destructive forces on a daily basis: insect, disease, development and weather. All of these things can create devastating losses or damage to trees, but some people are turning these negatives into positives — artistic positives.

A custom sliding barn door made by Wood From the Hood from reclaimed wood felled by a North Minneapolis tornado
A custom sliding barn door made by Wood From the Hood from reclaimed wood felled by a North Minneapolis tornado. Credit:

As reported by WCCO CBS 4 in Minnesota, a June thunderstorm toppled 3,000 trees in Minneapolis, a devastating blow to the city’s renowned urban forest, but what if these trees could find a new life? That’s the question Cindy and Rick Siewert asked themselves a few years ago when they had to cut down an ash tree in their yard. Thus, Wood From the Hood was born, a company specializing in using reclaimed wood to create “beautiful, high-quality wood products.” These products can range from furniture to cribbage boards; each item is unique and handcrafted from scratch, allowing the downed urban tree to find a new purpose. Rick tells WCCO, “It’s going to live on. It’s not going to contribute to the carbon footprint if we actually make something out of it.” Even better, it allows people to hold onto a special memory of a special tree: “There’s always a story behind the tree,” says Rick. The Siewerts aren’t the only ones finding new lives for trees, though.

Earlier this summer, in Davenport, Iowa, city arborist and forestry manager Chris Johnson transformed an eight-foot, downed limb from a cottonwood tree into a bench along one of the city’s recreational trials. The Quad-City Times reveals that this is just one example of Johnson’s wood utilization program. His crew makes downed trees into boards and benches to sell at a local farmers market and is also creating benches for some area bus stops. Johnson says that wood reutilization is “a growing trend, and it’s coming from the East. It stemmed from the emerald ash borer.” Speaking of tree-killing insects, a company in Montana, Bad Beetle, is turning a tragedy of losing 10,000 trees on the founder’s ranchland to mountain pine beetle into a unique opportunity: sustainable technology accessories.

A clock made from wood displaying the effects of the blue stain fungus
A clock made from wood displaying the effects of the blue stain fungus. Credit: Jenny Lazebnik

We’ve talked a lot about the devastation being wrought across the Rockies by the mountain pine beetle, but one detail that hasn’t come up yet is how it’s really a fungus being carried by the beetles that ultimately kills the trees. The blue stain fungus (Grosmannia clavigera) travels along with the mountain pine beetle, and once in a tree, its spores spread throughout the tree, eventually blocking the tree from properly circulating nutrients. This, in turn, kills the tree. The evidence of the infestation, though, is eerily beautiful, as the fungus — true to its name — creates a blueish-silver tint to the infected wood. And artists and entrepreneurs throughout the Rockies are using this unique, dead wood to create anew. The aforementioned Bad Beetle? It’s making wood cases for Apple products like iPads. The History of Colorado Museum used blue stain wood for its ceiling and some benches, while in Canada, they’re using this “denim pine” for flooring, siding and furniture and even for the roof of the 2010 Winter Olympics Speed Skating Oval.

But while we applaud all of these creative individuals for finding new life for trees, we love it when trees remain happy and healthy in their urban and rural forests. So help us protect our endangered western forests today or help support our other work.