Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sustainability and tree hugging

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.


JeremiahJohnstone said...

Hey Daveo, Just thought I would let you and VOR that I finally got that protion that I have been working at for two years. My job is to "cut exotic trees" from the wild canyons of Canyon de Chelly NM. The locals, who are some of the oldest inhabitants of this continent. They are all for getting rid of the exotic trees because of their ancient farming practices. My point is that people use the woods for all different reasons. Not far from the Navajo reservation, you will find the granola munching,crystal clutching folks that don't even know that old growth forest are a little misworded. They are usually decadent forests taking up a lot of nutrients and standing as sentinels blocking out sun for the understory. Old growth forests are good for burrowing and nesting animals but don't do much for sustainability, that word. I would like to know that we will have TP instead of skunk cabbage to wipe our behinds. JJ

JeremiahJohnstone said...

Wow, forgot to use spell check on my comment. Corrections 1: My promotion that I just got last week. Correction
2:Something about the oldest inhabitants of this continent,being the folks that I work with at Canyon de Chelly. Sorry about that. JJ

Silbs said...

Well said. I sense that the pendulum may be slowly swinging back toward the center (balance). Meanwhile, put in my vote for the silent sports.

Kristen said...

Well put.

DaveO said...

JJ, congratulations! I would think that two years would be lightning speed in the federal bureaucracy. Great point on 'old growth forest's' also. Silbs, I vote silent sports also, mainly because internal combustion powered devices hate me. Kiwi, good luck in the challenge!

JeremiahJohnstone said...

Oh, I forgot to tell you about the 1986 chevy luv pick-up that I passed on Lizard Head pass in the southern mtns of Colorado. It was running on vegetable oil and it smelled like fast food french fries. I was really impressed by it but now they(global warming scientists) think that alternative fuels sources are probably going to break even. Since they are clearing the land for crops to grow corn, they are essentially reducing carbon dioxide. Just adding some to your discussion on non-renewable resources. JJ