Still developing a land ethic

Land empty of people is sad and incomplete – A land full of people who overreach and destroy nature is a horror. A land empty of people is sad and incomplete. Walking gently on the earth is essential, but that implies humans are indeed walking there. Harmony, not exclusion, is the valuable and achievable goal. Humans living in harmony with nature is joyful and helps us find meaning in life.

The picture on left shows camas, a native plant with edible roots once very common in moist meadows of the Pacific Northwest. It was an important part of Native American diets and still has great cultural significance.  Natives Americans maintained these plant by regularly burning under the ponderosa pine. When fire was excluded, the brush filled forests almost eradicated camas.  When prescribed fire brought regular light fires back, the camas came back too.


I was in Kalispell, Montana as part of my part-time (WAE) work for State Department. While I did nothing secret, it would be bad form to post on most of the discussions.

But I did have a talk with Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) foresters who met with me not as a State Department official but as a guy just interested in their land ethic and how they managed their forest land. I have been reading and listening to land ethic practitioners for years now, trying to develop a land ethic I can use and share. Of course, it is always a work in progress. Land ethics are written on the land we steward and that is in a perpetual state of becoming.

I wrote some notes and I think they are worth sharing.

Tribal forestry

My plane was leaving a little later in the day, and a couple of tribal foresters were kind enough to explain some of their forest land ethic to me. Well … they admitted that – like most people who work in the woods – they were delighted to talk trees anytime anybody was willing to listen, regretting only that we did not have time to go into the woods together.

They became even more eager when I told them that I had been in the reservation forests a year earlier to study tribal fire practices and admired their superb work with ponderosa pine regeneration. White bark pine has become a challenge because of beetle kill and warmer winters. Besides pine, tribal foresters work with fir, spruce, hemlock and tamarack, as well as understory and herb layers of the forest. Forests are more than just the trees. Unfortunately, timber cutting and fire exclusion in the last century had harmed the health of their forests, making them more susceptible to beetle infestations and disastrous fires. More holistic based forest management will help restore forest health, but this will take years, and, in most ways, it is a never-ending endeavor, as change is constant, which means what we do must adapt.

Land ethic for seven generations

They told me that their land ethic involved managing the forests to the benefit of seven generations of their people and in it general form it resembles the Aldo Leopold inspired land ethic I learned as a young man. Today we might call it adaptive management. It recognizes the complexity of the ecosystem and that we can never know enough to make final decisions. Rather we observe, act, reflect and act again based on the new information and we do this forever. There are not problems to be solved but conditions to be adapted. We agreed that land ethics cannot really be written down, but rather must be lived on the land.

Land empty of people is sad and incomplete

An important factor is their land ethic involved the people integrated into the system. This is much in line with conservationist thinking but is out of step with some preservationist ideals that seek to separate nature from almost all, or in more radical formulations all, human activity. A land where people overreach and destroy natures is obviously bad. But a land empty of people is also sad and undesirable. It is essential to walk gently on the earth, but that implies that humans are indeed walking there. Harmony, not exclusion, is a valuable and achievable goal, and humans living in harmony with nature is joyful.

Thin and burn

This beautiful ponderosa pine forest in the photo is not natural. It is maintained by regular use of fire. Tribal foresters are using a variety of tools, such as thinning and prescribed fire, to restore and maintain the health of their heritage forests. Their plan is to restore the mosaic patterns of open land and forests of various ages. They want to have five age classes of trees, ranging from the new forests to one with very old trees. They understand the different fire and cutting regimes. A ponderosa forest requires regular light fire. A lodgepole pine forest might need stand altering fire or harvest, while spruce and fir burn or are cleared much more rarely.

We spoke most about the ponderosa, since that is most common and requiring fire and thinning. They talked about work they had done with their own forests and trees on the adjoining National Forests. It is part of a good neighbor policy of the Forest Service. They thinned and burned all but a few acres, when a wildfire went through. It passed under the managed forests without causing significant loss, but when the fire got to the overstocked unmanaged forests, it got into the crowns and burned that forest to the ground. The fire got so hot that it sterilized the soils, setting regeneration back decades.

THIS is an unnatural fire.

A land ethic for the generations

The foresters talked a little about tribal history. The Salish and Kootenai are mountain people and their diets consisted of game that could be hunted in the mountains and plants gathered there. This contrasts with some tribes that lived along the rivers and subsisted on salmon. Some of these people were related and trade was brisk, so it was not a straight boundary. The people also hunted bison. They were mobile and left the higher mountains in the fall, to return in the spring. On leaving their mountain camps, they set fire to the woods. These fires burned naturally, most going out soon after, but some persisting until quenched by winter snows. This is what helped produce the open woods and the mosaic pattern. (People unfamiliar with fire in the woods have the impression that a fire goes through evenly, burning everything in the path. This is not how it works. Vagaries in vegetation type, soil moisture, wind direction and just plan random chance mean the fire creates essentially an archipelago of different and diverse patches.)

The practice of setting winter fires mostly stopped when reservation life made seasonal migrations more difficult or impossible and when, during the early and mid-20th Century the expert opinion was that fire was an enemy to be fought and defeated. Prescribed fires today are less extensive but designed to recreate the diverse and varied archipelago environments.

This is not the first time I have been in these forests. Attached in my note from a fire conference last year.

I have included some pictures from the trips. The first two are just scenes.

Picture #3 is from the Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe-Dam, formerly known as Kerr Dam, owned by CSKT tribes since 2015 and managed by Energy Keepers, a tribal firm. It is the first example of a Native American nation in the United States owning a hydroelectric dam. CSKT also operates the local electricity provider, Mission Valley Power.
It is a concrete gravity-arch dam, built in 1938. The dam was designed to generate hydroelectricity but also serves recreational and irrigation uses. We were able to visit the dam powerhouse on the second day of the visit, but snow made it impossible to see the panoramic views of the dam and the lake.

Picture # 4 is a war memorial outside the CSKT tribal headquarters, produced by a local artist. Members of the CSKT have served in honorably and in significant numbers in our nation’s armed forces.

Picture # 5 is from the public town hall meeting in Kalispell.

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You need not eat the whole egg to know it is rotten

You need not eat the whole egg to know it is rotten.

Like many Virginia landowners lately, I am getting unsolicited offers from companies wanting to lease my land to exploit it for solar farms. I throw all of them in the garbage. I don’t care what kind of money they are offering. I don’t want it. It’s not my business to tell other forest landowners what to do, but I do want to explain why I feel strongly that we should not encourage solar farms in Virginia.

Solar is great – IN ITS PLACE

First, let me make it clear that I support solar on rooftops, powering remote installations & shading sunny parking lots. Lord knows it would be great to be able to park in the shade on a hot July day, and our urban areas are full of these sun-baked roofs & parking lots.

Just don’t take down forests or cover fields with solar panels. This is not clean energy.

Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees

Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. As responsible private landowners we protect and enhance the health of the biotic communities – of the living soil, water, air and wildlife – that depend on our land. This does not mean we should not use or profit from the land. On the contrary, good stewardship means wise use of land, and profit is a price of sustainability. We also must look beyond our own land to the greater ecosystem and the greater society. We should be thinking in terms of the triple bottom line. Is a decision reasonable from perspectives of ecology, economy and society? It must pass muster on all three.

Considering the really big picture, we might argue that devoting our forest land to solar would meet the triple bottom line criteria. Here is why it does not. If we harvest a tract, it does not stop being a forest. It becomes a forest in transition, as the next generation begins, may have already begun even as the harvest is in process. It stops being a forest if we convert to other uses, pave it over or cover it in solar panels. But isn’t the energy produced by these panels worth the cost of the local forests? Well … no.

Today’s solution will be tomorrow’s problem

No matter what they tell you, or maybe even believe, these panels will not last decades. They will be ruined by weather, made obsolete by advancing technology or just neglected. During their short lifetime, it is likely that they will never make up for the ecological value of the trees they replaced, nor the biotic communities that would have grown up.

We can tell they are a bad deal because they are not self-supporting. These solar farms are essentially farming tax breaks and subsidies. Their business model says that they get these things up front, while you rely on the uncertain long-term payback.

Anyway, before you let these guys put those things on your land, ask a few practical questions. How long and how much? How often will they be coming onto your land? What happens if they must remove the panels? Is the firm reliable AND are they likely to stay in business for the life of the contract? Who is liable if something goes wrong?

I reject solar farms because they violate my land ethic

I could think of a few more, but maybe save time by asking an enabling question first. Does this use of land fit my land ethic as a forest landowner? My answer is “no,” so I can just stop right there.

You need not eat the whole egg to know it’s rotten.

And take a look at this article.

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A simpler and better way to choose students

This is the simple, fair & transparent solution. Determine threshold requirements based on a combination of tests, grades and courses taken. This might produce many more qualified students than places available. Then do a lottery.

There is no such thing as a “whole person” at 18-years-old. Any attempt to be more precise in assessments is silly and invites bias and corruption. Keep it simple and it is harder to cheat.

Almost all kids who want to go to college can go to college today. The problem comes from the artificial scarcity created by the “top” universities. A lottery addresses this. It also makes the kids less crazy competitive and would make them less hierarchical.

Consider that today if a kid is rejected by a university, she feels personally aggrieved, maybe suspects cheating. The lottery would not eliminate the sorrow, but it would mitigate the anger and the hurt.

I feel strongly about this and have articulated it for years in more detailed form. IMO, the big reason we do not eliminate the anxiety in admissions is that too many benefit from it.

One more thing. Consider that those kids that got in through the dishonest procures discussed in the recent scandal evidently did okay in those “competitive” schools. Some have already graduated. What does that say about the emissions process? Beyond the threshold requirements, it is not better than random chance, just more anxiety causing, expensive and opaque.

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The Study of Leadership

Who should you trust to write about leadership? Academics generally can write more eloquently and more persuasively than practicing leaders, but can they appreciate it as well? There is no such thing as writing history as it really was. All history is a creation of historians, or the storyteller, who decides what to leave in and what to take out of the story. The historian also imposes a paradigm on the account. The paradigm is not the whole truth. It cannot be. It is a simplification, a model that we can understand.

A good model includes as much detail and nuance as possible w/o becoming so complicated that it is incomprehensible, and a good historian puts events in context that makes them meaningful while keeping to the basic truth. It is a tall order.

I recently finished a couple books with leadership in their titles and cases of leadership as their themes.

“Leadership” by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a classical narrative history by a renowned academic historian. She considers of the leadership challenges of four presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. She knows them well from studying them for her lifetime. She worked briefly with Johnson himself. She is a superbly credentialed historian, with no significant experience as a leader. Stanley McChrystal in some ways is the opposite. He is a trained and experienced leader w/o significant academic credentials. His book, “Leaders: Myth & Reality,” is not as good from the academic point of view. His narratives do not seem to flow as well, and the book could have been edited to about half its length w/o losing meaning. His method is based on the classic historian Plutarch and features paired biographies in categories of geniuses, founders, politicians, reformers, heroes & zealots, and so a broader field than Goodwin’s. He also is more concerned with the environments, constraints, uncertainty and even random chance that leaders face.

McChrystal’s narrative is less concise and focused because he is less skilled at academic writing than Goodwin, but also because he is accounting for more variables and more complex interaction among them. I think this points to a fundamental challenge for those looking to understand leadership. Those that do tend not to write, or at least do not write as convincingly, and those who write do not do.

There are notable exceptions. Churchill, Caesar and Thucydides leap to mind as practitioners who wrote clearly and compellingly, but many of the most influential writers of history and most of the “system builders” like Hegel, Marx, Spengler, Toynbee or more recently Howard Zinn, never led as much as a Johnny detail.

I suppose it is a question of how much we can know and how much we need to know. Many great leaders never studied the “science of leadership” and maybe that is good. Leadership often tends to be situational and maybe the particulars of the circumstances are more important than the general. Stories of great leadership tend to include lots of hindsight insights and myths. Maybe this is okay too. Some of these stories are be inspirational or didactic.

Leopold von Ranke, the “historian’s historian” emphasized that history should be told “the way it happened” and we should not give up rigor, but maybe we need to consider within the limits what can be known about the way it happened and what we have the capacity to understand and use.

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Have you participated in any competitions? How did you do?

Have you participated in any competitions? How did you do?

It is not too much to say that swim team was what I cared most about at Bay View HS. It ordered my life.  I was a good natural swimmer and swam varsity my first year. This was unusual.  Not that good. I did not get a major letter my first year.  But I was good enough that I could cherish reasonable aspirations.

The reason I swam varsity was that we had a meet at an eight-lane pool.  That meant the junior varsity (me) got to be in the same pool as the varsity.  I swam 400-Freestyle for the first time. To my surprise and that of everybody else, I came I second.  One of the guys from the other team won the race, but I came in ahead of everybody else, including our two varsity swimmers.   This outcome did not delight my varsity teammates.  Our lead swimmer for the 400-Free was a guy called Rutowski.  He was good looking and extroverted, inordinately proud of his wash-board abs and incredulous that a skinny wimp like me could come in ahead.  The varsity coach, a guy called Czarapata (yes lots of odd names) had never much noticed me.

The consensus was that I was just lucky Swimming is not a sport where luck plays a big role, but every sport, every human activity, has a social dimension.  I stayed on the Junior Varsity for a couple more meets, but as my times were faster than those of the “starters” the coach finally displaced one of them and swam varsity but remained JV. That is why I did not get that major letter.

Rise of the Machine

In all fairness, it was easy to miss me in the crowded practice pool.  I was introverted, so I did not push myself forward. I had a clumsy and thrashing form while swimming.  We did not have swim-offs.  Rather the coaches assigned you to a race based on their judgement of your potential.  My first assignment had been the 100-butterfly.  I never learned to do that stroke well, so I usually came in 4th in a field of four.  I guess I had done so poorly that they stuck me into 400-free, which was not a popular distance.  In the meet mentioned above, I had never swum that fast before over that distance, but I just kept on going because I wanted to keep up with the faster guys.  My teammates gave me the nickname “the machine” because of my persistence.  I was proud of that.

The beauty of not knowing the challenges

My times were improving fast. Since I did not understand math very well and never heard of the law of diminishing returns, I determined that I should get the school record in 400-free.  It was an old record; as I recall from 1953.   I figured I could knock it off within a couple years.  Ignorance is bliss.

This would not happen w/o effort. This I did understand.  So I went to library and got a book called “The Science of Swimming” by a guy called James Counsilman. Coach Czarapata talked about this book.  The coach did not notice me, but I listened to him.  I read the book very carefully and made up a plan that included off-season swimming and weight lifting.   I lifted weights every day for the next three years, taking off only when I was preparing for a meet or seriously ill.  I did endurance even days, 300 reps, and strength on odd days.  It worked.  When I came back to swim practice the next year, I was much more muscular and much faster the first time out.  Coach Czarapata noticed me.

Tragedy

I woulda, coulda, shoulda got the school record that year, but I had a serious problem.  I coughed up blood and the doctor said it was an ulcer. He said I should not do so much as a pushup if I wanted to get better. I think it was a misdiagnosis, since I never had an incident since.  The diagnosis did, however, keep me from joining the Airforce ten years later and stopped me from swimming during the crucial time in my second year.  I recovered after a few weeks, too late to make a good season.  It was the biggest tragedy in my young life, I thought.

I worked out even harder after.  During that summer of 1972, I went swimming every non-raining morning at Kosciuszko Park swimming pool.  It would have been a perfect summer, followed by a winning season, but my mother died.  Now THAT was the biggest tragedy of my young life.  My mother had been very proud of my swimming success.  I thought I should carry on and I did.  Only in hindsight do I see the profound effect that had on me, but that is another story.

The best year ever

The swim season went well, the best Bay View had done for a long time, maybe forever. We won ALL our dual meets that year and I won all my dual meet races, except one, and this is ironic.  We had a meet with Marquette University HS, not one of our usual public-school competitors.  They had a really fast guy in the 200-free and 400-free.  They said I could not beat him, and they were right.  It was in my home pool and I tried hard to get ahead and then just keep up, but he was faster.  So, I was surprised when my teammates seemed happy and congratulated me when I – defeated – pulled myself out of the water.  I beat the Bay View school record, even if this guy now held the pool record.

I never did better.  In the Milwaukee city tournament, I missed my first flip turn and ended up in third place.  I have always referred to that as my “Freudian flip,” since it gave me an excuse to lose.  There was never question about doing well in Wisconsin state meets.  Milwaukee boys never won. We were not good enough.  Kids in the suburbs were on teams since they were little kids.  We started competition when we were in 10th grade. We never caught up.

There is small compensation that my swim record was never bested.  A few years later, the swim competition went to 500-free.  The first person to swim that won the record, but he did not beat me.

Sic transit gloria mundi

My swim team experience was a passing but very important part of my life.  It kept me out of trouble in HS. I was so concerned with my training that I never drank booze, smoked or took drugs.  I became interested in improving my diet and I learned how to set achievable goals. Nothing I learned in HS was as crucial to my future as was the swim team.   I got the record in the 400-free, shared the record in the 400-free relay and was co-captain.  Not too bad. But after a few years, it didn’t really matter if I won or lost.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

A son’s need for his father’s approval

My father was less interested than my mother in my swimming. He thought sports were a little … dumb.  But he did come meets twice.  He came to the city relays and to the city championship.  I like to think he was proud of me, but his comment was interesting.  In the city relays, we swam against Boys’ Tech. They were the perpetual champions, since they literally had twice as many boys as anybody else – a bigger field to choose from.  I was the third leg in the 400-free relay.  We were behind when I jumped in. I caught up and passed the Boys’ Tech swimmer.  Although we lost in the last leg (they had a great guy), for a brief shining moment it looked like somebody would beat Boys’ Tech.  All the other teams were cheering for us.  As I got out of the water, I was mobbed by joyous teammates and members of other teams. I still recall the elation.  When I met my father after the meet, he said simply, “You did okay.  I didn’t know you could swim like that.”

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“Do you believe in a higher power?”

My story worth for this week. A deeper subject.

“Do you believe in a higher power?”

I had been living away from home for many years, had a family and life of my own. I was an adult far from childhood. But you are never prepared for the death of a parent, and my father’s death affected me profoundly. I was in Poland when he fell seriously ill. My sister called and I caught the first plane home. I think I was over Canada when he died. I admire his last words. As my sister reported, when asked how he was doing, he replied, “I can’t complain.”

For a long time after, I was out of balance – a kind of vague malaise. Then I had a remarkable dream. Words will not be adequate to convey the feeling, and the feeling was what made it remarkable. I felt that in the eternal present. Everybody was there, past, present & future. I don’t try to explain it. My malaise lifted and I have not felt it again. Well, almost never, which is remarkable since it has been more than two decades.

I firmly believe in a higher power, with the stipulation that I can never understand in any rational way what that means. The explanation lies with faith in … faith. That is not say we cannot know anything. Raw truth – the meaning OF life – is unavailable to the mortal man, but we can come to a likeness of truth by seeking meaning IN life. We humans are hardwired to seek meaning in life and to persist in the journey that we know will never be completed. All of us must find our own way.

Some people seek truth by meditating or studying ancient texts. I have great respect for those who do these things with rigor and commitment. I never got into meditation. I fall asleep. If that counts, I am adept at my daily meditations. And although I still sometimes enjoy parsing ancient texts, that is not where I find answers to profound questions. IMO, those answers cannot be found in the intellectual sense but can be perceived. I learn the parts by study and effort; I perceive how they fit together -the whole – only when in motion and engaged in some activity. Just don’t sit still. My favored way is to immerse in nature and try to recognize natural principles, accepting that the joy & connections come from searching, not finding. I welcome a new horizon opening after I summit each ridge.

I recognize that is my way and not the only way.

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We are the original “green deal”

We are the original “green deal.” The American Tree Farm System has been conserving forest land in the USA since 1941 & I think we have done a good job.

The ATFS logo includes the four things our land produces: wood, water, wildlife & recreation. We know we need to make a profit on our land, else we are not doing our duty as part of the productive economy. But profit is not the only or even the primary motivation for holding land

Clean water is a product of forest land. Our forests filter rain water and the natural processes of a forest actually clean water flowing over it. A well managed forest produces wildlife habitat. That is a big part of my forest goals. And forest are undeniably beautiful places.

My often repeated slogan is that trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. We need look at the total ecosystem and the total ecosystem includes more than what we would usually call nature.

The human ecology is also part of our system. If our products go into long lasting buildings, they continue to hold the carbon they absorbed and create a habitat for humans.

Lately, I have been thinking of it in terms of the triple bottom line. We need a money profit, a community/cultural profit and an ecological profit. Failing any of these is a general failure. Succeeding in all this is the success we seek.

My pictures are from around Louisville. The Ohio River is very high.

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You cannot make Bourbon w/o white oak

 
Bourbon is a gift of the oak tree. More than half of whiskey’s flavor & all of its color comes from the oak in the barrels. The whiskey is taken in and out of the wood as it ages and matures. The taste of Bourbon is the taste of the oak forest. I think that is beautiful.
We went to the Old Forester distillery in Louisville. Since it was a tree farmer convention, Old Forster seemed appropriate, although we would prefer something like “experienced but still energetic forester.”
 
They make whiskey at their downtown location and also have a cooperage. The barrels need to be made of new white oak, so there is a big demand for that wood.
 
We are a little worried about the future of white oak. It is common now, but most oak forests are middle aged to old growth.
 

The new generation is not coming up in sufficient numbers. A big reason is that maturing of forests of eastern North America. Oaks need light and disturbance to regenerate. It takes 30-80 years to grow a white oak tree, so we need to act now so that Bourbon drinkers of the future will benefit.

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Road to Louisville

In Louisville. CJ & I went to visit Jim Beam and then had supper at the local Gordon Biersch. Also visited Louisville Slugger. They are moving away from ash. More bats are made of harder maple these days.

On the way to the National Tree Farm conference in Louisville. We are spending the night in Cambridge, Ohio. There is not much here, but the hotel is convenient and inexpensive.

We had supper at a place called Steak and Ale. They had the standard fare and we have the standard pictures.

The other pictures are Braddock’s road and Braddock’s grave. As you recall, General Braddock came to western Pennsylvania to fight the French & Indians during the French & Indian War. The British eventually won, but not this time.

As was standard at the time, he built a road so that his troops could move in good form. This tipped off the French & Indians. A small force of French and Indians ran into the larger British force and defeated them. It is called Battle of the Monongahela or sometimes just Braddock’s defeat. General Braddock was killed. Then Colonel George Washington helped hold the army together as it retreated.

The British troops did not have the capacity to take Braddock’s body home. Not wanting it to be dug up an mutilated by the French & Indians. They buried the body under the road, unmarked. The movement on the road covered the grave. The precise grave site remain unknown until 1804, when workmen found the bones. The site of the grave is marked and you can see it in my picture with me standing near it. Souvenirs hunters stole some of the bones and artifacts until they were reburied on a hill above the original grave. A monument was erected in 1913.

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Brunswick County Timber & Agriculture Conference

Forestry is the 3rd largest industry in Virginia (Agriculture is #1 followed by tourism). Brunswick County is Virginia’s leading timber producer and has been for the last decade. My forest lands are in Brunswick County, so I was delighted to go to the Brunswick County Agriculture and Timber Conference on February 20.

Brunswick County depends on agriculture & forestry

Brunswick County officials were there to show their appreciation and concern for the County’s biggest industries. They seemed sincerely interested in how to make the place more forestry-friendly. Everything could be better, but Brunswick is already a pretty good place for forestry. That is why I chose to buy land there. Much of that is not easily within the immediate control of local officials, however.

Human ecology

Favorable human and business ecology are the main reasons Brunswick is good for forestry. An ecological paradigm applies to human relations. We have enough loggers, mills nearby, decent infrastructure for moving timber and a supportive local culture, i.e. people are comfortable with the odd things that we do to manage and harvest trees. There are challenge with all these things that I will address later, but compared to most other places, we are doing well.

I have attached the agenda of the meeting.

Forestry a big deal for Virginia

Bettina Ring, Virginia Secretary of Forestry and Agriculture, was the keynote speaker. Ms. Ring was Virginia State Forester before becoming Secretary and was involved with Tree Farm and sustainable forestry before that. She reiterated that agriculture & forestry are Virginia’s biggest industry. Together they produce $91 billion of annual value for the Commonwealth and directly support 450,000 jobs, and many more indirectly. Forestry and agriculture also contribute mightily to tourism, our second biggest industry. Besides contributing to natural beauty, I was interested in some of the ways Virginians are using the production of the earth. We have 300+ wineries and cideries, 250+ brewers & 70+ makers of spirits, all of these attract tourist and support tourism. Who doesn’t want to have a nice drink in a beautiful setting?

We do have the perpetual challenge of land transfer.  Much of the Commonwealth’s land is held by old people like me. In fact, I am a little on the young side. We will not live forever and what happens to the land when we shuffle off this mortal coil? We must recruit a new generation of active landowners who want to keep their land in trees or crops. I am concerned when I see the fingers of the cities reaching into rural land but selling often makes sense to landowners. I have no plans to sell my land, ever. I hope my kids learn to love the forests, but who can say? On the plus side, this challenge is perpetual, as I note above. Forest landowners are usually older than average, for the simple reason that you must be old enough to inherit land or to have saved enough to buy it. I have owned my land for almost fifteen years, and I was 50 when I got it, already not a young man. Virginia has a special designation of “Century Forest,” a forest that has been in the same family for at least 100 years. My great grandchildren could apply for this in 2105, but there is a lot that can happen between now & then.

The triple bottom line

Finally, she got into the triple bottom line, although she did not use that term. For a project to be truly sustainable it must be worthy from the ecological, economic and social/cultural perspectives. If it fails on any of these factors, it fails generally. There is a challenge in meeting all three, since there are inevitably tradeoffs. But it is a challenge that can be met and is being met in most of Virginia forestry.

When thinking about the triple bottom line, I do not like the idea of compromise among the factors. Compromise implies a zero-sum game, where one loses to the extent that the other wins. I believe in synergies. Applying intelligence and accumulated practical wisdom, we can do better in all the factors, where one does not take away from others but rather each grows with the other.

Virginia ports and railroads

Daniel LeGrande, talked about Virginia ports. He explained something I wondered about, but never really followed. How is it that Virginia has a “port” at Front Royal, hundreds of miles from the sea and not on a navigable river.  Virginia’s inland port is a hub for rail and roads. Virginia’s ports at Hampton Roads is the third largest and deepest on the East Coast and is well served by rail and road. Ships can also go up the river as far as Richmond. Agriculture and forestry serve this by filling empty containers going out. All this logistics is fascinating for me, but well above my competence. I am glad somebody got it figured out.

Forestry panel

We broke into separate forestry and agriculture groups. The forestry group featured Virginia’s State Forester Rob Farrell, as well as local forestry business leaders including Owen Strickler, Thomas Evelyn, Frank Meyers & Vance Wright. It was a very congenial group, guys who have known each other for many years and know their business.

More wood than ever in Virginia

Rob started off with good new and bad news about forestry in the Commonwealth. We are harvesting more wood in Virginia than ever, but we are growing those trees on fewer acres and more wood is growing each year than is being harvested. Why is that good and bad news? Harvests are good. That more wood is coming off fewer acres may be good, but it probably means that we are growing more intensively. That is good, right? Not sure. I know this is only my opinion and it is based on the luxury I have of an income not only from forestry, but I like a little LESS efficiency.  My farms are a little lazy. The trees are too far apart for maximum production, but they are the right spacing for wildlife, for example. I am not sure the longleaf experiment ever will pay off. Intensive loblolly would be better. I cannot scoff at better results, however. Well … I can but I recognize that mine is a curmudgeon opinion. I am not offended knowing that many people would think I was just nuts.

The more wood factor is more clearly economic. Prices for timber are low and the fact that more wood is growing every year than is being harvested implies that they will not improve. On the other hand, it does show that we have a practically limitless supply of southern pine. No worries about a wood famine for at least a generation.

Virginia forestry is green, good and growing

Unambiguous good news is that Virginia forestry is doing a great job of protecting the environment. Department of Forestry inspects every harvest and they do a sample for deeper study. In this years sample 95% of the sampled met 100% of their Best Management Goals (BMP), and 100% of the samples found no significant sediment leaving the tract. You cannot do better than perfect. Virginia’s BMPs are more stringent than those imposed by EPA.

My experience fits with what the State Forester told us. In May of 2018, I went along for tree farm inspections on 20 randomly selected Virginia Tree Farms. The inspector found zero violations of standards of sustainability. We harvested on Freeman this year. I am very particular about how it is done. I inspected the harvest in every way I could.  I found a few things I did not like, but absolutely nothing that I could reasonably complain about. The loggers left the site clean and beautiful. The only things I did not like was that the ground was compressed where they had assembled the logs. This was unavoidable. I can, and I am addressing this by making them into pollinator habitat.

Solar farms growing but not green

Thomas Evelyn spoke about rural economic development in New Kent County. The thing I took away from his presentation was the danger of solar farms destroying forest ecosystems.  I have noticed these monstrosities popping up like a rash in Virginia and the Carolinas.

The following is what I was inspired to think about, but as I read it, I see that it is a bit of a rand and I will not saddle Mr. Evelyn with it.

IF you think that using energy from solar farms is “green” you are badly mistaken. Solar power from solar farms is obscenely destructive. Solar farms are more like strip mining than they are like regenerative. They tear town existing forests and cover the land with solar arrays. Nothing grows there. The soil underneath erodes. The land underneath dies.

And then consider the aftermath. You have to dispose of these solar panels when they are done. Solar panels require lots of toxic materials to make and disposing of them creates a toxic waste situation.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is worried about this. Lawmakers want to require solar purveyors to come up with a plan to dispose of the panels when they are done and restore the soils, the flora and fauna – just as they would have to do with strip mining. Virginia has an estimated 200,000 acres of land easily suitable for solar farms. One of my worst nightmares is that solar is put on these acres.

I have received unsolicited offers to lease my land to solar firms. I tear them to pieces & throw them away. There is no way I would EVER do this to my living forests. I would consider it immoral to ruin the environment like this. I love my land too much. Yesterday’s solution is often today’s problem, and solar farms are going to to be a big problem, maybe not today but soon. The irony is that we are paying taxpayer money to finance and subsidize this future ecological disaster.

Solar energy can be, often is, good. Like most things, however, it depends on where, when, how and how much. The race to appear green is sometimes harmful to being green. Don’t fall for that green electricity canard. If you demand 100% renewable energy currently, YOU are part of the problem, not the solution.

Questions about Virginia forestry

Frank Meyers gave a great talk. (I have a semi-disclaimer here. Frank introduced me to the guy who sold me the land in Brodnax. I have been pleased with the purchase and grateful to Frank for the opportunity.) He did not answer so many questions, but he posed lot to think about. Some of the things I think that I have thought about, but I am not sure. Frank worried about merging of mills. We have a lot of mills in the near Brunswick, but maybe not the competition that will give landowners the best prices. Frank praised the reforestation tax. Loggers pay it and the Commonwealth matches it. The proceeds go into reforestation of pine. Frank wonders if we may not have done too good a job. Maybe we need to go into hardwoods. We worried about a shortage of pine. Maybe not.

Frank also was concerned about solar farms. He mentioned them in Fluvanna County. Solar farms do NOT respect stream management zones or BMPs. The rain that falls on solar farms washes sediment into streams. Will forest owners need to pick up the slack? Will we get blamed for the silting of streams and estuaries from the sediment of those solar farms?

What about Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs are like REITS but for timber land). TIMOs own or control a lot of forests land these days. Their goals are investment more than forestry. What if they find better returns for their shareholders?

Finally, Frank talked about something I never even thought about. Evidently loggers have to pay taxes on their equipment, while farm equipment is exempt. This is making it hard for loggers. They have a fixed tax unrelated to their income.

Vance Wright pointed out that forestry is Virginia’s first green industry. He also took a swipe at the solar farms. He said that there are just two ways that we humans can get anything. We can dig it out of the ground, or we can grow it from the earth. Forestry grows from the earth. Solar panels are made from materials dug from the ground. Make your own judgement.

Owen Strickler said that we need another pine saw mill east of I-95. There is lots of supply. Virginia is exporting raw logs. This is okay, but it is better to add value with Virginia jobs. He made an interesting point that just had never occurred to me. He talked about how a pine saw mill could ease a shortage of hardwood logs. Some of the best oak and popular comes as a collateral harvest to mature pines.

What is happening in the state legislature

After the panel and after lunch we had a few presentations. The one I recall best was by lobbyist Ben Row. He talked about several of the bills in the legislature. Two of special interest, IMO. One related to timber theft. Many landowners sell timber only once in a lifetime. They are not sophisticated about the sales and can get ripped off. One scam is for a crooked logger to sign a contract paying 50% of up front and the other 50% when the job is done. Sounds fair, but what the crooks do is pay the 50% and then harvest up to 90%. Then they stop. They never finish the job and so never pay the rest of the bill.

Another bill related to those hated solar farms. It would allow localities to require owners to present a plan to decommission the solar farm when it is finished. The danger is that solar owners will leave the mess of panels, denuded soils and toxic waste.

I greatly enjoyed the conference. I attend lots of such events. Usually they are good, but this one was so very well targeted to my local issues. I hope they do it again and remember to invite me back.

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