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

Understanding Hyla Woods – A Summary:

There are a number of reasons to be clear about where an organization is, how it got there, where it aims to go, how it aims to get there, and why it matters.  There is value to those working within the organization, so that their efforts to work hard are backed up by strategies that also help them work “smart”.  Secondly, when others ask to learn about our opportunities and efforts, it seems important to meet the request with concise and accessible resources.  Accordingly, what follows is a summary of: 1) our assessment of our current context, 2) an articulation of our aims, 3) an outline of the strategies we use, and finally 4) why we think this work matters.

Our Context:

At the same time that we are aware of our good fortune to be the owners and stewards of 780 acres of productive forestland in a region that is remarkable for both its ecological productivity and its progressive and optimistic human culture, we should also be upfront about the condition and history of these lands.   In the period between 1920 and 1950 owners of these lands removed the resources that were most valuable at the time (logs), converted the resources into dollars, sold the lands, and moved on.  As a result, the ecological values of all three of our forests are much lower than they were before 1920 and their relative ecological recovery varies due to a range of factors.  These are ecologically degraded lands that have potential to be restored to much higher value.  One example of this, with one aspect of forest value, is the estimate that our Timber forest, prior to logging, was growing roughly 100,000 board feet of wood per acre, compared to the regrown forest that only grows about 20,000 BF/acre after ninety years of recovery.

The economic context beyond the forests’ boundaries is also important.  We find it helpful to summarize the most fundamental dynamic in three ways, ranging from simplest to more complex:

  1.  Fork in the Road – As we explore the      options open to us as family foresters, we find ourselves confronted by an      uncomfortable choice – a fork in the trail.  We have the option to choose the trail      leading toward relative economic viability or the other trail leading to      owning an ecologically complex forest; current markets send the signal      that we must choose between one path or the other.
  2. Teeter Totter – A second way to represent the dilemma is the model of a teeter totter, with economic viability increasing in proportion to declines in the forest’s ecological complexity. This is driven by multiple factors including: sawmill owners’ preference for a uniform, Douglas fir log, competition in the global wood marketplace with wood coming from places with much lower standards, and the reality that though forests provide many goods and services, the land owner is currently only paid for one of them.
  3. The Missing Corner – When we assess      forests in terms of their relative level of ecological complexity and      short term economic productivity, we find that a plot line running from      forests with high complexity and negative economic productivity to others      whose relatively high current economic productivity comes as a result of      lowering ecological complexity.  We      have not yet learned how to grow forests and shape economies in ways that      result in high levels for both.  One      consequence of this is landscape scale declines in natural capital such as      the declines in biodiversity in the North Coast region of Oregon where at      least 39 animal species are either locally extinct or seriously at risk.

One final dimension of our current context concerns a sequence of stages through which the relationships between euro Americans and North American forests have progressed.  Each phase developed problems which the solution of which led to the succeeding phase.

Phase 1 – Forest as Problem – Settlers want to remove forest to allow for other uses

Phase 2 – Mining – Timber viewed as a resource to be mined

Phase 3 – Single Revenue Stream from Single Resource – Focus on trees as a crop to be managed using an agricultural model

Phase 4 – Multiple Resources but Single Revenue Stream

Phase 5 – Multiple Resources Providing Multiple Revenue Streams

Due to the challenges forest owners face when we try to grow forests that provide many values, when we receive compensation for only one of those resources, it is inevitable that we must make the transition from phase 4 to phase 5.  The reality that our wood must compete in the global market place with wood grown in the large part of the world that is still phase 2, makes this transition particularly difficult.

We believe that Aldo Leopold’s definition of conservation is both simple and insightful:

“When the land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land; when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation.  When one or the other grows poorer, we do not.”  

In our experience, conservation forestry is currently impossible in the Pacific Northwest due to the dynamics summarized above.  Making it both possible and preferable is essential to reliable prosperity in this region.

Our Aims:

Working within this context and with the forests and opportunities that we are fortunate to have, we aim to reshape the models outlined above:  at the fork in the road, we aim to create a middle route when one needn’t  choose between  the two.  With the teeter totter we aim to have both ends rise by using “wedge” strategies to increase revenues and reduce expenses. Success will create new “x”s in the upper right quadrant of the X-Y graph.  As believers that change happens by working where one is, with the resources available, we aim to continue to work, in partnership with others, to create models that provide better opportunities for our family, for the land, and for others.   We will have succeeded when we have repaired the damage done to the lands over than last 100 years and reshaped the economic and culture context so the lands won’t be degraded in the future.

Our Approaches:

Our challenge is to budget our available resources in ways that blend work in the ecosystem (the forests) and in the economic systems (shaping new and better markets).  Instinct and experience teach us that we get much further when we work in mutually beneficial partnership with others.  We’ve been fortunate to find and work with a wide variety of community partners.

In the Forests –

  1. Aspire to Excellent Forestry, with every acre being in “up cycle” condition (meaning that the diversity, productivity, value, and resilience of the forest community will continue to increase without our intervention).
  2. Values Increasing – Focus on all of the major forms of forest values (wood, water, carbon, habitat….) and take actions that lead to improvement in all areas.
  3. Quality – Refine silvacultural approaches that maximize the potential to grow high quality wood and other high quality products.
  4. Value Added – Where the economics work in our favor, mill logs and dry lumber into those products for which there is the highest demand.  By doing this we are beginning to both turn the tree diversity of our forests from the liability that they are, when limited to selling into mainstream markets, into an asset, and gain greater value for our high quality fir lumber.
  5. Accountability – Use our monitoring program to both assess the changing condition of the forests and our role in those changes, and to possibly serve as a basis for emerging markets for ecosystem services (EG carbon, biodiversity, water….)
  6. Zero Waste and High Efficiency – Based on the belief that there is no such thing as waste, we continue to find ways to reduce our impacts and expenses and improve our revenues.

Beyond the Forests –

  1. Improved Wood Markets – We focus on selling high quality, specialty products, through value chains that are kept as short as possible, to people who want to know and care about where their wood comes from.  We are pleased to be receiving increased premiums and market access because of our choice to work to both be FSC certified and operate to standards that are higher than FSC standards.  Cooperation through the Build Local Alliance and Healthy Forests Helathy Communities Partnership is critical to the development and growth of new markets.
  2. New Markets – In keeping with the transition from “phase 4” to “phase 5”, outlined above, we are actively involved in moving ecosystem service markets from intriguing concept to a practical reality.  One first step is the reliable quantification of these services.
  3. Community-Connected Forests – Based on our belief and experience that the work outlined above progresses more quickly when done in partnership with many individuals and organizations in our community, we use an adapted version of the Community Supported Agriculture model to build and maintain a mutually beneficial web of cooperation.  Examples range from working with school and university groups in the forests to partnership with academic and agency scientists to continue to build our understanding of the forests.

Why This Work Matters –

On a global scale, we are challenged to find and use ways to reconcile the needs and wants of humans with the realities of what the planet can provide.  We have a long way to go.  It seems hard to imagine a better place to start than by working with a few, small pieces of forest – in cooperation with the wider community – to see what might be possible.  If reconciliation can be successful on the micro scale, perhaps lessons learned can and will inform change on larger scales and in expanding geographies.  Where better to start than here?

Tracking Success –

We will know that we are on the right path when:

  1. Forest owners need no longer choose between having ecological complexity or economic sufficiency in their forests,
  2. The teeter totter has been replaced by a pair of bird’s wings,
  3. We have working examples of multi value – multi revenue stream forests inhabiting the “NE corner” of the X-Y graph, and
  4. We can honestly demonstrate that conservation forestry is both possible and being practiced in our region.

In Summary – Though we have much to learn, there is a great deal of uncertainty on the road ahead, and there is nothing to say that what we aim to do is possible, we hope that the odds of our being successful are improved by our choice to approach the situation in the strategic ways that are summarized above.  Because know that the status quo takes us to places that we do not want to go, we see the path of trying to create new and better alternatives to be our only viable option.  Time will tell.