Growing for the Future—the Sustainably Managed Forest
It wasn’t until I visited the 94,000-acre Collins Almanor Forest near California’s Mount Lassen a few years back that I understood what “sustainably managed” means. For the Collins Pine company, it has been a way of doing business since they started timber operations in 1941 on land they began acquiring as far back as 1902.
From the get-go, they used a “sustained yield” management strategy, essentially meaning that harvesting is done in a way that doesn’t hamper the forest’s continued growth. To do this, they estimated how much timber was there when they started. Then they implemented a cutting strategy that allowed them to harvest trees without damaging the ecology of the area or diminishing the future potential yield of the forest. By 2009, after they had harvested about 1.5 billion board feet of lumber, they still had resources left to harvest for another 70 to 80 years. The company’s sustainable use of the land has earned it status as one of the premier Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) operations in the U.S.
FSC has risen from the alphabet soup of certifying bodies as the only one that represents real accountability in forestry practices—it tracks and certifies the product from the time it was a tree until it reaches the construction site, paper mill or other production site. All three Collins forests—Almanor, Pennsylvania and Lakeview, that together span 314,000 acres—have been independently certified by SCS global Services in accordance with FSC standards and policies.
Until I visited this forest, FSC was one of the abstract concepts that buzzed around in my head when thinking about “green building.” Jay Francis, forest manager for Collins Pine Company, took us to a sustainably harvested forest as well as one that was clear-cut (a common practice in conventional timber operations). We also visited a forest that was unmanaged or “wild.” Trust me, the unmanaged forest was nothing like those described by early settlers—open and park-like, with plenty of light filtering in and space to accommodate their wagons. Today, unmanaged forests are characterized by a buildup of dead limbs and leaves—increasing the danger of catastrophic fire—and a glut of undergrowth that chokes out sunlight and keeps grasses and other plants from thriving. Not to mention that this diminishes available food for herbivores who call the forest home.
One reason “unmanaged” doesn’t equal “natural” is that we’ve changed the relationship between the forest and fire. Before the West was populated, the forest would burn periodically due to spontaneous fires sparked by lightning or to Native Americans starting fires to maintain the health of the habitat. It’s also important to note that when fires burn periodically (every 15 years or so), the fuel load is controlled and fire doesn’t become the traumatic event that it is today.
This experience really opened my eyes. I never imagined the depth of knowledge and level of engagement with the forest required to produce the materials we need, while nurturing the health of the resource. Now, it seems like a no-brainer to choose FSC whenever possible for lumber, paper and other wood products, especially when much of it can be had at the same or close to the same price. For more info, check out www.fsc.org.