Forests For Teddy Bears

October 15, 1999

By Michael Jessen

If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down in the woods today, you'll find logging in a new disguise.

With apologies to lyricist Jimmy Kennedy, the opening words of his popular children's song are an appropriate way to introduce two initiatives that prove the success of sustainable forestry and one West Kootenay effort which hopes to offer further proof soon.

Two examples of ecoforestry that have been around for more than fifty years are the operations of Collins Pine in California and Pennsylvania, and Merv Wilkinson's Wildwood tree farm north of Ladysmith on Vancouver Island. The Harrop- Procter Community Cooperative (HPCC), located about 30 kilometres east of Nelson, plan to emulate these earlier efforts in less than two years.

Ecoforestry is a long-term ecologically sustainable and economically sound alternative to current conventional forest management. It is predicated on maintaining the "natural capital" of the forest ecosystem, while allowing a wide range of values and benefits to be derived from the "interest" of the forest.

Merv Wilkinson has been proving that small can indeed be beautiful since he began selectively harvesting the trees on 77 acres of coastal Douglas-fir forest right after World War II. By "selectively," Wilkinson means that he takes a tree here and a tree there, removing at most 10 percent of the standing timber at any one time.

Wilkinson is completing the eleventh cycle of logging in the forest, which still holds about as much wood as it started with, some 1.5 million board-feet of mixed species, mostly Douglas-fir. He has harvested more than 2 million board-feet while he and the other creatures that call the land their home have continued to enjoy the presence of a mature forest.

"This is sustainable forestry: you only harvest as much as you grow," he explains. "And you can take those trees out in a way that you do a very minimal amount of damage to the natural forest.

"The other method of forestry, clearcutting, is shameful if not criminal," adds Wilkinson who gained a forestry degree at the University of BC in the late thirties.

"The kind of forestry I do employs more people and requires way less capital," he says. "It extends the employment period over a much longer period of time on the same volume of wood and a better utilization of it."

Wilkinson says BC has about 4 million hectares of non-sufficiently reforested land because of "malpractice in the logging industry" which has put loggers out of work.

"Given the average growth rate of BC forests, that same land on my system would have 3,400 people employed in the logging end itself to say nothing of the processing," he says. "Under my system alone, 3,400 people wouldn't be out of work."

Selective forestry on an annual cutting cycle has provided Wilkinson with a steady income, about one-third of his livelihood by managing his land and a partner's adjacent 70 acres.

Creating employment and sustaining the local community is also the plan of the HPCC that was formed to implement the ecosystem-based harvesting plan created by the Harrop-Procter Watershed Protection Society (HPWPS). This type of planning, developed by the Slocan Valley-based Silva Forest Foundation, will allow the cooperative to receive Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for the wood harvested on their land tenure, a substantial marketing tool in an era when more and more wood buyers are seeking sustainably harvested wood.

According to Rami Rothkop, a director of both the HPCC and the HPWPS, this ecologically responsible method of harvesting trees is "a good solution to ending land-use conflicts in domestic watersheds."

Both Rothkop and Ramona Faust have spent years creating the plan and lobbying the provincial government to grant the harvesting license on 10,600 hectares to the community instead of using the forest for the Small Business Forest Enterprise Program.

The community cooperative was offered a Pilot Community Forest License on July 16, 1999 and hopes to begin harvesting within a year and a half.

"This community started in 1976 looking for alternatives to what the Forest Service was proposing, which was regular forestry," says Faust. "This has been a long-held conviction of many members of the community. They've never been opposed to forestry per se, just the way it's carried out."

Like Wilkinson, the HPCC is striving for long-term employment for community members not only in tree harvesting but also three other areas of business development.

They hope to build a value-added plant to produce consumer goods and giftware designed by students and graduates of the Kootenay School of the Arts Wood Products Program and other local designers. Such products could be marketed internationally.

The HPCC also hopes to develop an agro-forestry business selling wild-crafted herbs and plants from the forest, such as devil's club and Oregon Grape, and organic, commercially grown herbs from local farms.

A third employment generator will be low-impact eco-tourism after area hiking trails have been upgraded.

"We believe this method of planning tree-harvesting incorporates and respects a much broader range of values, such as the importance of real community involvement and the necessity of ecological protection," says Rothkop. "Community forestry should be a vehicle for more ecologically sustainable forestry and healthy, diverse, value-added local economies."

The Collins family, pioneers in the Pacific Northwest timber industry, also believes that a healthy forest ecosystem, jobs in the community and profits for the company go hand in hand.

The efforts of the Harrop-Procter group and Merv Wilkinson pale compared to the Collins Pine Company which has more than 121,000 hectares of privately-held prime timberland that has been FSC certified as sustainably managed. It is a $230-million per year enterprise with more than 1,000 employees.

While the Collins family had always considered themselves to be the stewards of their land and responsible to the communities that lived near their forest holdings and/or depended on them for their livelihood, Truman W. Collins, the founder's grandson created a new vision in the 1930s. He foresaw a new kind of forest operation that would ensure a perpetual supply of timber for a mill, mills that would never close, and stable, sustainable communities where jobs would be available in perpetuity.

Today, the 38,000 hectare Collins Almanor forest in California has been logged continuously for five decades, yielding more than 1.7 billion board feet of timber. Yet this forest has a higher inventory of wood standing and growing than when logging began in 1943, much of it in mature trees. Just like Merv Wilkinson, Collins is reaping the interest on the growth of their forest while protecting the principal.

In addition, the Collins Company does not use pesticides and fertilizers to promote growth and because their naturally healthy forests have a variety of species and ages, the forest reproduces itself without additional planting.

Merv Wilkinson's Wildwood forest is impressive, but when a company like Collins Pine offers proof that sustainable forestry can succeed on a much larger scale, it makes one wonder why all forestry is not conducted this way.

Healthy, sustainable forests, communities, and jobs are much preferable to traditional forestry practices. It's hard to imagine people, let alone teddy bears, having a picnic in a clearcut.

ONE SMALL STEP - If you have to buy wood products, ask for certified wood from sustainably harvested forests. Home Depot has committed to sell only certified wood products within two years. Other wood product sellers should be asked to make similar commitments.

Further information on the Harrop-Procter Community Cooperative is available by phoning them at (250) 229-2221, by fax at (250) 229-2332 or e-mail at hpwater@netidea.com. Some of their documents are available on the Silva Forest Foundation web site at www.silvafor.org, which is also a wealth of information on ecoforestry. Articles about Merv Wilkinson can be found at www.realnews.org/headline/mwilkins.htm and www.columbia-pacific.interrain.org/compass/wildwood.html and . The Collins Pine Company web site address is www.collinswood.com. The Ecoforestry Institute Society of Canada has a web site at http://ecoforestry.ca and New Society Publishers published "Ecoforestry: The Art and Science of Sustainable Forest Use," edited by Alan Drengson and Duncan Taylor in 1997. It is available from their web site at www.newsociety.com.


All columns archived here are copyright © 1999 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.