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The Hole in the Forests

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Food For Thought |

Filling a Hole in Our Forests Cultures and landscapes co-evolve over time – each changed by the forces and pressures of the other.  Cultural evolution to better fit within a landscape’s opportunities and limitations takes many forms, including the emergence of new, specialized professions or callings – the bundling of necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes within individuals and guilds of individuals.  The invention of agriculture called for farmers – extraction of metals required competent geologists and miners – computer technologies rely on programmers to write software  – ships couldn’t sail without boat builders, sailors, and navigators – to find the way…… .   Looking further back in time, I am intrigued by the emergence and perpetuation of one specialized role that, though considered antiquated by many, has underappreciated potential to instruct us and inform our future choices.  The short version goes like this:  as human populations expanded, people explored in search of new places in which to make their home – first across the land, and eventually across the oceans.  Exploring across oceans depended on successful innovation – boat building, sailing, provisioning…. and navigation.  The navigational skills required were initially rudimentary,  as people sailed along shorelines and to islands visible on the horizon.  But as people set out from Asia to find their way across large and challenging stretches of the Pacific – in small, fragile craft; upwind against the prevailing trade winds- their success depended on individuals having and using increasingly complex and sophisticated knowledge and skills.  In a time when European sailors’ navigational adventures kept them within sight of land, Pacific Islanders sailed their canoes across great distances to settle in many of the far corners of the planet’s largest ocean without the benefit of the compass or other more modern navigational tools.  How did they do it?  The answer to this question is clear, thanks to the knowledge and skills of ocean wayfinders that have been passed down through an unbroken chain from generation to generation  for thousands of years and continues to be alive, vital, and actively used today.   The keys to the success of their navigation deserves a more complete answer than I...

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I Get It

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Food For Thought |

I Get It To meet the challenge of learning – and choosing – to use forests without abusing them, we need to create effective, market-based incentives for good forest stewardship.  Markets shape land – and people shape markets.  Because I feel strongly about this, I work, in the ways available to me, to help make this happen, primarily through encouraging the success of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification system.  My involvement ranges from being an early adopter forest owner, a miller and retailer, and an encourager of fellow landowners, to serving as a leader of an organization committed to building new markets, and serving as a policy maker and policy shaper.  My focused determination to see FSC work – for me and for my community – led to a zeal that I now realize limited my ability to pay attention to, and learn, from important information that others were telling me.  I was blind.  I share the following three realizations for reasons beyond their importance to me; I share them because I think they highlight significant flaws in the FSC systems that must be acknowledged and corrected before FSC can succeed as an effective forest conservation strategy.  As long as others share these “blind spots” that I have ignored and denied for years, how will we collectively improve our vision and move rational conservation forestry from a concept to a tangible reality? In the interest of clarity, I will distill my journey toward awareness into messages I have received from three directions – from customers, from peer forest owners, and from policy makers and agency staff.  In the same way that the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle come together to reveal a more complete picture, each of the interchanges provide an essential dimension or facet of the situation that I believe we must acknowledge and address.   The Customer – She called in hopes that our family forests could provide local, FSC certified wood trim for the house that she was building.  Excited to find that we could provide what she was looking for from our forests in the northern OregonCoastRange, she asked to us to provide specific...

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Hyla Woods and Climate Change

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Food For Thought |

Hyla Woods and Climate Change In our three family-owned forests in the northern Oregon Coast Range, our work is guided by a simple belief: “If we take care of the land—the land will take care of us.”  With climate change, we believe that “caring for the land” extends beyond our property lines to include our playing a responsible role in maintaining the climate on which life—and the success of our tiny family business—depends. While areas of uncertainty about climate change can’t be ignored, current evidence leads our family to four conclusions: 1) climate is changing at an unprecedented rate; 2) human action plays a significant role; 3) changing climate is leading to consequences that none of us can afford to ignore; and 4) forests can and must play a significant role in creating and contributing to solutions. Action is required—but what, on the scale of our little patches of forest, makes most sense? Over the past four years, we’ve developed and been guided by, with a large dose of humility, a climate change-related action plan. It is made up of four sequential goals centered on the value of forests to climate: understanding value, maximizing value, measuring and tracking value, and finally, eventually capitalizing on value. We focus on value because while a forest’s role in climate is as old as the first forests, what is new is our evolving recognition of the climate-balancing role of forests as an important, and too often overlooked, forest value.   Our Approach 1. Learning (Understanding Value). We have so much to learn about all aspects of climate and forests that our initial focus is on both increasing our personal knowledge and encouraging and supporting our academic partners to clarify the largest areas of uncertainty and conflicting science. The stakes are too high to let politics compromise the scientific strength and validity of the foundation on which solutions must stand. 2. Stewardship Choices (Maximizing Value). Regardless of whether someone pays us to do it, we are making on-the-ground choices that both help address the problems (mitigation), and strengthen  our forests’ ability to deal with changing conditions (adaptation). On the helping side, we work to...

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Hot Air

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Food For Thought |

Adding Hot Air to Your Woodlands When people learn about our recently completed solar dry kiln sitting on Mt. Richmond’s airy, 1,200 foot summit on the eastern edge of the northern Oregon Coast Range, they often ask us the same question: “What were you thinking?”  Experience has taught us that there are two parts to this question: 1) Don’t you know that a solar kiln could never work in such a soggy, sun-starved spot? and 2) Even if it could work, why would forest owners ever want to operate a sawmill and kiln in their forest when they could just sell their logs to the local mill? Though we too have asked ourselves during some of the more trying moments of building and operating the kiln: “What were we thinking?!” we have found that a solar kiln can work well in western Oregon and that the gamble we’ve made to add the kiln, associated mill and new markets has added significant value—economically and ecologically—to our family forest operation. Before sharing the reasoning behind our choice to build and operate the kiln, a bit of background may be helpful.  The kiln measures 20 feet by 70 feet.  Four 10’ x 10’ drying chambers, a workshop, equipment storage and a covered milling area are located on the ground floor, while the second floor holds the solar collector, circulation fans and duct system.  The kiln operates in the largest of the three forests that make up the 780 acres of Hyla Woods—a family-owned forest operation.  Each of the four chambers holds 3,000 board feet of stacked and stickered lumber.  The kiln’s capacity and projected annual output were designed to conservatively match the forests’ annual growth of hardwoods.  In optimal conditions, the wood air dries to about 18 percent moisture content in six to eight weeks, after which we slide the doors closed, put the solar heat to the wood, and dry it to 6-8 percent in three to four weeks.  Though we plan to eventually mill and dry all of the 10 species found in the forest, our primary focus is on oak and maple, due to their relatively low log value...

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Don’t Eat the Dog

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Food For Thought |

Don’t Eat the Dog: One year ago, as the crisp days of late Fall shortened toward winter, my fellow workers and I took a midmorning break from work in the forest.  The flip of the switch silenced the chainsaw’s snarl and with a final cough the rumble of the cat, with which we have been yarding logs, returned us to welcome quiet.  With the warmth of late fall sun on my shoulders I took in the view. Unlike the many days when we are working in a hollow where the most impressive view is a vine maple thicket or a rotting stump at close range, the view included a postcard-worthy sweep; the foreground was filled with the mosaic of the forested hillside to which our family holds legal title (from  day to day it is tough to tell whether we own it or it owns us).   Though my name has been on the list of owners for sometime, I find that the land’s  curves and tree-covered textures look somehow different to me since my wife and I took over management and majority ownership in recent years.  In the distance, beyond the family lands, across the Tualatin River as it  makes its transition from  coastal mountain stream to plain-traversing river, my view took in familiar forestlands on the ridges beyond.  In addition to occasionally providing inspiring morning break views like that morning’s, another perk of working on family forestlands is the opportunity for reflection and contemplation.  While at times working in the forests requires us to use every once of our limited brainpower, there are also occasions when the work allows chances for constructive contemplation. Enjoying the break from the morning’s  hard and loud work, sipping from a water  bottle kept cool by being  tucked against the trunk of a tall oak,   I mulled a difference in the forested lands across the valley.  The difference was not one that the eye could see, they look much the same, but instead a difference in their owners’ attitude toward the land’s future. To the right, where the coast range ridge descends to merge into the flat Tualatin Plains  I saw forests owned...

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Don’t Look – Don’t Tell

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Food For Thought |

Don’t Look – Don’t Tell –   Life experience has taught me that our species is prone to taking actions that are not in our best interest; in spite of seeing the horrifying images of a smoker’s lungs, people smoke; in spite of knowing the down sides of doing it, some of us can’t resist the call of a bacon cheeseburger; and in spite of understanding the reality and risks of climate change, we continue to fire up the vehicle for trips we really don’t need to take.  One of my personal weaknesses is that in spite of knowing that it puts my livelihood as a forest keeper and landowner at risk, I persist in the habit of monitoring the birds and other species in our forests.   But what could be risky about that?  Isn’t the image of forest keeper making the time and effort to annually monitor and analyze the birds in the forest an appealing one?  Isn’t it is society’s best interests to encourage land owners to ask and answer such questions as: “what species use and live in this forest?  What does this tell us about our use of the land?  How can we manage to provide better habitat?”  Certainly this evokes the image of the westerner keener to build longer term relationships with the land than our legendary “get the money out of it and move on” predescessors; but let’s be honest – our choice to monitor the birds in our forest is as, or more, contrary to our self interests as smoking, beef biting, or joy riding.   Our livelihood depends on our ability to reliably harvest and sell wood from the forest;  the finding of certain species in the forest would bring to an end our ability to maintain a working forest.  Put more simply, it would put us out of buisiness and force us to sell the no longer economically viable land at a significant loss. Here are the details – our 160 acres forest, near Timber, Oregon, measures one half mile on each side.  Should a Northern Spotted Owl take up residence we would be required to leave a 70...

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