Pete Nygren knows the story behind virtually every piece of wood he’s used to build his home.
Maple flooring was salvaged from an old easement on Lake Louise Road south of Bellingham. Maple cabinetry came out of a tree that used to stand just outside his kitchen window. Spruce in the ceiling of his master bedroom used to be trees on the 8th hole at Lake Padden Golf Course, where Nygren used to work.
One of the longtime woodworker’s prized creations, a large armoire in his living room, came from a black walnut tree that took him three days of cutting to get out enough useable wood.
“I yielded a whole bunch of beautiful walnut lumber from that tree, and people will cut that up for firewood,” Nygren said. “It’s criminal.”
Nygren runs Treecovery, a company he started in 2009 that specializes in the recovery and processing of natural loss and salvage trees. Its website at www.treecovery.com functions as an online networking tool, connecting tree providers with mill owners and processors who can turn trees that have been lost due to natural causes or have become physical hazards into usable lumber.
People who have trees they’d like removed submit information on their trees’ size, species, location and condition. If a tree is good quality, the site connects suppliers with mill owners who salvage them at the suppliers’ cost.
High-quality trees can be turned into logs, and suppliers of trees with significant value can receive compensation.
On the other end, lumber buyers submit information on the type of wood they’re seeking. Once the right variety becomes available, Treecovery connects those buyers with the appropriate mill owner to make purchases, while keeping a small commission.
Nygren, who’s been salvaging trees for more than a decade, said his goal is to find buyers the nearest source of usable material. It makes more fiscal sense to buy local lumber than ship in product from other regions of the country, he said.
Downed or unwanted trees that still have value in them can be given new use, instead of being disposed of or chopped up for firewood. Nygren said a lot of quality lumber is lost from locations including yards, public parks, golf courses and roadsides.
“It’s a huge amount of wood that goes to waste from urban settings,” he said.
One of Treecovery’s more ambitious future plans is a “pedigree” tree system. Pedigree trees would be selected based on their quality and given serial numbers so they can be tracked through every stage of the process, from felling and sawing to their use in housing or furniture.
Buyers of pedigree products would be able to receive information recounting the history of the tree used to create whatever it is they purchased.
Treecovery would also give woodworkers participating in the program a special member number, allowing them to track products indefinitely through their lifespans.
“It’s going to take some time,” Nygren said. “If and when this system is accepted, I think it will be a really cool feature.”
After starting the company three years ago, Nygren said the most difficult process has been getting buyers, particularly lumber wholesalers, to adapt to a new method of wood purchasing.
Treecovery offers a shifting roster of salvageable trees. Since the company can only offer what is made available by tree suppliers, it can be difficult to help buyers who have specific types of lumber in mind.
Nygren said he plans to continue selling the positive environmental and economic benefits of salvaged wood in order to show that a network such as Treecovery has a niche within the lumber and woodworking industry.
“Retraining people to buy wood this way, with anticipation, has been tough,” Nygren said. “I’m trying to reach this whole network, from buyers to suppliers and everyone in between, but buyers are going to be key right now.”
Photos by Brian Corey