The silence of the limbs

My name is Norm, I love trees, and I’m a forester.

This is a picture of a stand on Mountain Home State Forest after it was logged

Foresters love all the types of forests that exist, young, old, and in between. Trees are awesome. We love all the stuff they provide, such as shade, habitat, cleaner air, clean water, and yes, wood.

We are not Romantics. We don’t confer pastoral scenery with transcendental qualities. Though we passionately love trees, we don’t wax poetic about them in the way Thoreau does. To you perhaps, we have an odd way to show our love for the forest: we cut trees down. That detail may remind you of Hannibal Lecter saying he likes people with “fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

A group of us non-Romantic types got together at the California Licensed Foresters Association (CLFA) convention, March 4-6 in Sacramento. The Arden Hilton’s parking lot held more pickup trucks than a Hollywood gala has Prius sedans.

It’s easy to spot the working forester’s 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 merely ‘play’ in the mud for fun. Foresters don’t play in the mud; they work in the mud during winter. And they work in ankle-deep dust in the summer. The giveaway to the pickup is found in the back. Along with bits of tree bark, leaves, and more dirt, you’re apt to see the tools of the trade: chainsaws, handsaws, double-bit axes, loppers, shovels, tow straps, plastic flagging, and some odd looking stuff with even odder names like hoedad, dibble, McLeod, and Pulaski.

Inside the Hilton, it was just as easy to recognize the foresters. We wouldn’t know couture from a coat rack and so we stand out like bib overalls at a black tie affair. Carhartt jeans and plaid-flannel shirts are common. We didn’t don our normal footwear, our caulked (pronounced “corked”) boots, which was fortunate for the floors since caulked boots have spiked soles. 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.

We were at the Hilton to recognize our achievements, share knowledge, and celebrate surviving what had been the worst season in anyone’s memory. Foresters work in the only net carbon-positive industry. Yet, we’re in an industry struggling to stay alive. Due to lawsuits, additional fees, and regulations, the costs of producing a Timber Harvesting Plan have risen 1200 percent over the past 30 years. It’s a formula squeezing some of the greenest jobs out of the state.

Forestry’s survival has been through adaptation in the face of a public disinclined to what we do. We cut trees. Yet, we’re not your grandfather’s clearcutter. No more “Cut it flat, burn it black, plant it back,” said Jim Ostrowski. New awareness and new science leads to new goals and practices. Now, “We cut trees to grow trees,” says Steve Butler, a forester from Santa Cruz, “because what is left is the important part.” You cut bad trees, leave good trees.

Industrial forest management has changed with the times. Still, harvesting can look awful. Stumps, logging slash of bark and branches, and skidding trails can look like devastation. It takes time, training, and a willingness to learn. 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. Remember, trees are grown. And if it’s not grown, it’s mined.

Foresters use silvicultural treatments to maintain, protect, and manage biodiversity. Forests have evolved over millennia with fire, flood, insects, and wind. ‘Protecting’ forests from disturbances they count on for rejuvenation can be detrimental to their long-term health. Harvesting can mimic natural disturbance by creating openings for new plants and wildlife. So, if you look decades beyond the present, you’ll see a biologically healthy forest, teeming with life.

You may not like logging but I bet you love trees—and wood. Why, even people living in San Francisco have to admit that they use wood. You and I have tree-hugging in common. If you hug trees, perhaps it’s 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 volume calculations. That’s my nature.

I love trees, sometimes with pine nuts and a nice Chianti, admit it, you do too.


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