I went to a panel discussion on sustainability in packaging at General Mills on Tuesday evening. The panel was made up of experts from such companies as General Mills, EcoLab, Aveda, Eureka Recycling, Natureworks, and others. A couple of times the comment was made that, 'by implementing this small change we saved an entire forest'. These earnest and committed panelists had no way of knowing that right in their midst sat a man whose forest was being cut down literally as they spoke.
We people powered sports advocates such as kayakers, hikers, bikers, cross country skiers, and climbers are all lumped together and viewed as tree huggers and environmentalists. This dynamic is apparent on I-35W as I head north, expanding my carbon footprint, toward the Promised Land of Lake Superior. GMC Suburbans hauling snowmobiles and ATV's disdainfully fly past we granola munchers in Subaru's and Toyota's with our roof racks full of bikes, skis, and kayaks. Our fellow 'right thinking' outdoor lovers on the other hand, give us that little head nod and finger wave that lets us know we are part of the club. As a guy who has been accused of stirring the pot a bit, I love it when I'm heading to up to the hunting camp in the fall for some multitasking. I usually have a couple kayaks on the roof of my VW and am pulling my Honda ATV on a trailer with a chainsaw strapped to the back rack. I've received some of the funniest looks from people as they go past. Its like they can't categorize what they are seeing and it appears to frustrate them.
About a year ago we contacted the Living Forest Cooperative to help us set up a timber sale. Over 60% of the forests in Wisconsin are privately owned and this does not include the land owned by the big private timber companies. An organization called the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association offers both a forum and an educational component for these landowners. Our land is two miles from the south shore of Lake Superior and we have a nice mix of aspen, balsam, spruce, oak, maple, white and red pine, as well as some ash. Our goal is to manage our forest in a sustainable (there's that word again) fashion in order to maximize wildlife, keep the woods healthy, and make a couple of bucks for the essentials in life, like low volume rolling kayaks. By focusing on selectively cutting the aspen and large balsam and leaving the hardwoods and other conifers we can have our cake and eat it too. This means a nice, albeit more open, forest with trees reseeding and regenerating in the cleared areas. New aspen saplings make an environment rich in food and cover for everything from rabbits to deer and wolves. In about 10 years it will be time for another harvest. And possibly another new kayak! Mature forests are wonderful and should be preserved. The ancient stand of hemlocks in the Porcupine Mountains, pictured below, is awesome. But nothing lives there except black bears and red squirrels. Wildlife needs new growth.
I wanted to tell the esteemed panelists Tuesday that while 'saving a forest' is an admirable idea, that the old fashioned idea of conservation, first articulated by that legendary University of Wisconsin professor, Aldo Leopold, in his Sand County Almanac is an even more noble concept. Sustainablity is great but it can't let it turn into an environmentalist buzzword. We need to couch the concept in terms that will embrace both the guy in the Suburban as well as the guy in the Subaru. Everyones grandkids will be needing toilet paper and by using our head and the venerable and inclusive concept of conservation, we can make sure they have both a clean behind and a lovely forest to enjoy.