Usually everything in Kent’s Corner is of my own creation, but I came across this article and thought that it belonged here too. Few of us in the retail lumber industry think about what is happening in our national forests on a daily basis, and probably none of the rest of the public think about it at all. This article is here to help inform.
When we leave forests to nature…
By Jim Petersen, Co-founder, The non-profit Evergreen Foundation
Jim Petersen is a co-founder and executive director of the non-profit Evergreen Foundation, and publisher of Evergreen, the Foundation’s periodic journal. He is a graduate of the University of Idaho, where he majored in journalism and broadcasting.
Jim is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the 2003 Society of American Foresters National Journalism Award, for his work on “The New Pioneers”, Best Forestry Public Relations Program in the Nation, AFPA 1991; and Communicator of the Year Award, Montana Wood Products Association, 2004 for his leadership in the national forest health debate and many other awards.
“When we leave forests to nature, as so many people today seem to want to do, we get whatever nature serves up, which can be pretty devastating at times, but with forestry we have options, and a degree of predictability not found in nature.”
—Alan Houston, PhD Wildlife Biologist, Ames Plantation, Grand Junction, Tennessee, Evergreen Magazine, Spring 1997.
Take a moment to go back and re-read the quotation at the top of this page. Savor it. Consider its implications in a world overrun by environmental charlatans and other fakers who wear their phony green credentials on their shirt sleeves.
In the 50 years that I have been writing for a living, Alan Houston’s wisdom is easily the most important observation ever shared with me by anyone who knows anything about forestry or nature.
You can be forgiven for believing that Alan is a forester, but this is not. He is a PhD wildlife biologist, and he runs the forestry and habitat conservation programs at the Ames Plantation on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Tennessee.
Alan and I got acquainted during two memorable days in the fall of 1996. On our first day he toured me through the plantation’s 18,400-acre forest, an impressive reserve that he manages for quail, turkey and whitetail deer habitat. On our second day, we took a long walk through the woods east of Grand Junction.
It was October and the forest we were traversing was ablaze in neon-like reds, oranges and yellows. There was an old oak tree he wanted me to see if he could find it. Eventually, we did, and as we stood beneath its magnificent canopy he announced with some reverence that it was the tallest oak he’d ever found. He guessed it was about 400 years old, which meant that it was older than our country, older even than Virginia’s Jamestown Settlement, where America began.
“This tree will topple over soon and I will weep for it,” he said quietly.
I stood silently beside Alan, who I had only known for two days, not knowing exactly how to respond to the awful news that he would soon be losing an old friend. I assure you I was totally unprepared for the homily that came next.
“When we leave forests to nature as so many people today seem to want to do, we get whatever nature serves up, which can be pretty devastating at times, but with forestry we have options, and a degree of predictability not found in nature.” I was stunned by the biblical cadence of his words. Although Alan was clearly very fond of the old tree, it was merely a prop for the forestry lesson that was about to begin – a lesson I have since shared with hundreds of thousands of Evergreen readers.
What Alan wanted me to know was that there wasn’t a damned thing that he or anyone else could do to prolong the life of his favorite tree. It was old and it was going to die soon. He would miss it, for sure, but there were other trees in the forest including some that had germinated from the old oak’s seeds. A fall breeze or perhaps a bird had carried them off to who knows where. Just thinking about how the old tree had cheated death amused Alan, and it amused me too.
But Alan’s main message wasn’t about a tree that had cheated the Grim Reaper. We were there, at the confluence of 400 years of human and natural history, because Alan wanted to make sure that I understood that, in our post-industrial society, we can only get the things we want from our forests – clean air, clean water, abundant fish and wildlife habit and a wealth of year-round recreation opportunity – by first embracing the rock solid, time-tested certainty of forestry.
“Nature is indifferent to human need,” Alan said. “She – or He – does not care what you or I care about. To get what we want and need from our forests we have to manage them for the outcomes that are most important to us.”
I know of no place where this lesson is more exquisitely taught than at the Ames, which is best known not for its trees but for being the home of the National Field Trial Championship for All-Age Bird Dogs. Ames also hosts teacher conservation workshops annually. I can only imagine that most who participate are struck by the plantation’s natural beauty. But they are probably more startled by the news that all of the beauty that surrounds them is the result of the very direct and very disruptive influence of Alan Houston’s brand of outcome-based forestry. His mission is to produce the best quail, turkey and whitetail deer habitat in Tennessee, and no one who hunts at Ames questions the success of his towering achievement.
The best that can be said for our once well-managed federal forests is that they provide a startling and instructive contrast to the message of hope, growth and prosperity. We have the Alan Houston’s of the world to thank for the abundance we find in America’s privately owned forests, large and small. We are all richer – materially and intrinsically – for their dual commitments to science and human need.