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Made from trees that were killed by the emerald ash borer, this furniture is on display at The Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago Aug. 22–Sept. 7. Photo: Morton Arboretum

Ash trees make excellent floors, cabinets, and sporting goods like baseball bats and, because the emerald ash borer doesn't reach their heartwood, the usually straight-grained hardwood doesn't have to be consigned to the wood chipper or mulcher.

That's the point of “Rising from Ashes: Furniture from Lost Trees,” an exhibition of work by artists who used victims of Chicago's two-year infestation as their media. The beetle burrows into bark, destroying the tree's ability to bring water from the roots to upper branches, and trees begin dying within two to three years.

About 20% of the city's trees are ash; Illinois has an estimated 131 million. Dead, damaged, and diseased trees removed by cities could supply nearly one-quarter of the hardwood consumed in America, according to the U.S. Forest Service. By reclaiming and reusing trees that would otherwise be destroyed, fewer healthy trees would need to be removed for lumber.

“Urban trees are treated as waste,” says Edith Makra, chair of the Illinois Emerald Ash Borer Wood Utilization Team and an arborist at the 1,700-acre Morton Arboretum in suburban Chicago. “There's valuable lumber in our landscape trees that can and should be harvested.”

To develop a market for your community's lumber, Makra recommends that contractors and crews bring down trees in sections at least 8 feet long. In the meantime, under a 2008 U.S. Farm Bill program that becomes effective Oct. 1, cities can borrow up to $5 million to fight invasive insects.

Departments can use the 20-year revolving loan program to buy equipment —such as cherry pickers and wood chippers—for surveying, building, staging and marshalling areas, removing trees, and planting new ones.