I Love Trees

This is what a plantation looks like, it's hardly a monoculture

I love trees. I love them standing. And I love them horizontal. I love them on the stump and off. I love all the stuff they provide, tangible and intangible.  I love all the types of forests that exist, young, old, and in between.

My name is Norm and I’m a forester. It’s good to finally say it, after all these years.

I recently met others of my kind at the California Licensed Foresters Association (CLFA) convention, March 4-6 in Sacramento. The Hilton’s parking lot held more pickup trucks than a Hollywood gala has Prius sedans.

It’s easy to recognize a working foresters’ pickup. And, don’t let the patina of dirt and mud-caked splashes around the wheel wells fool you, you’ll see that on the trucks of people who just play in the mud. Foresters don’t play in the mud. They work in mud during winter. And they work in ankle-deep dust in the summer. The way to spot a forester’s pickup is found in the back of the truck. There you’re apt to see the tools of our trade: chainsaws, handsaws, double-bit axes, loppers, shovels, tow straps, plastic flagging, and fueling dispensers (complete with nozzles and meters. You may also see some odd looking stuff with even odder names: hoedads, dibbles, McLeods, Pulaskis, and log chokers. You’ll also find tree bark, leaves, and more dirt in the back of a forester’s truck.

It’s easy to recognize foresters. Inside the Hilton, we stood out like bib overalls at a black tie affair. Carhartt jeans and plaid-flannel shirts are the most common. We didn’t don our normal footwear, our caulked (pronounced “corked”) boots, which was fortunate for the floors. By the way, do you know how to recognize an extroverted forester? He (or she, yes, there are women in the woods) is the one looking at the other person’s boots.

Like nerds, we possess an impaired fashion sense (we wouldn’t know couture from a coat rack), love of Skol, and all things earth, foresters are quite intelligent. They aren’t knuckle-draggers, far from it. Our group included several PhDs and scads of Bachelor of Science degrees. Almost every attendee was an RPF (Registered Professional Forester).

The RPF license requires seven year’s forestry experience and successfully passing a killer comprehensive exam. The exam covers everything about managing forests including: silviculture, surveying, vegetation management, forest protection, forest sampling and measurement procedures, timber growth, yield, and utilization; forest economics, forest valuation, statistics, and soils science, silviculture (forest care), mensuration (forest and tree measurements), dendrology (tree identification), wood technology (identification and wood characteristics: tensile and elasticity), to name just a few.

Despite working in the only industry that is net carbon-positive (see the table on this post ), we’re in an industry struggling to stay alive. I’m sure some can’t wait to dance on forestry’s grave and have thrown lawsuits large enough to choke a bear. Due, in part to their efforts at helping logging’s demise along, costs of producing THPs (Timber Harvesting Plan) have risen 1200 percent over the past 30 years. It’s a formula to squeeze some of the greenest jobs out of the state. As I said, we cut trees to grow trees because what is left standing is the important part. A t-shirt I saw said it more succinctly than I, “Trees. Cut ‘em down…they grow back! DUH!!!”

Stumps, logging slash of bark and branches, and skidding trails can look nearly devastated. I already see the decades beyond. My training has ingrained in me the need to monitor progress and see what has and hasn’t worked. Not everyone sees harvesting as I do.

The folks who don’t like logging also love trees. We have tree-hugging in common. They hug, perhaps, to tactilely become one with the tree and totally grok its nature. I hug trees to throw a D-tape around them to measure diameters for subsequent volume calculations. That’s my nature. Different flings for different things. You love trees your way I love trees my way.

I love trees. How do you love trees?

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California’s Deforestation Due to Wildfire

This is a map of the National Forests in California. These forests comprise about half of the forestland in California.

The Forest Service graphic below shows the results of the 2000-2009 fire season in California. About 1% of California’s fires chalk up 90% of the total acreage burned. Half a million acres that had the potential to provide wood instead produced smoke filled with carbon dioxide and water vapor.

According to the United Nations, deforestation accounts for nearly one-quarter of human-caused greenhouse gases. Half a million acres were converted by fire and maybe one-tenth of that has been replanted.

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How much deforestation is there?

I mentioned the other day in “What Killed the environmental Movement, that generally environmental organizations tell you how bad things are but will never say anything improved? Check this out:

[Illegal logging and unsustainable forest practices] lead to the loss of nearly 36 million acres of natural forests each year, an area roughly the size of New York state. The world’s poorest people often bear the brunt… – World Wildlife Fund

Now I crosschecked with the 2005 Global Forest Resources Assessment compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):

Deforestation, mainly due to conversion of forests to agricultural land, continues at an alarmingly high rate – some 13 million hectares [32.1 million acres] per year. – 2005 FAO report

Now, that’s close enough that I wouldn’t quibble, but the FAO adds that due to reforestation the number is less.

At the same time, forest planting, landscape restoration and natural expansion of forests have significantly reduced the net loss of forest area.

And is the culprit illegal logging and poor forest management? Sometimes. From this FAO graphic it looks like it fuelwood gathering.

In fact, it’s an improvement. An improvement of over a million and a half hectares (4 million acres) per year:

Net global change in forest area in the period 2000–2005 is estimated at -7.3 million hectares per year (an area about the size of Panama or Sierra Leone), down from -8.9 million hectares per year in the period 1990–2000.

I know, I know, we’re still losing acreage and I agree with the WWF that “The world’s poorest people often bear the brunt…” but much of that is due to the United States desire not to harvest in its own forests.

Consider California ability to grow trees and its demand for wood. It has 40 million acres of forest with 313 billion board feet (BBF) of timber In 2000, 2 BBF were harvested.

California has 40 million acres of forest with 313 billion board feet (BBF) of timber. In 2000, 2 BBF were harvested from California and we consumed 8.5 BBF, a difference of 6.5 Billion board feet had to be imported from somewhere else.
(Source: McKillop, William. “Forestry, Forest Industry, and Forest Products Consumption in California.”)

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