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Chapter 7.3

Poetry and Profit

Managing the Complete Forest

By Philip Krohn

Feeling the strains of a century of industrial logging, millions of acres of verdant forest land in Eastern Oregon's Wallowa County have been reduced to a glimmer of their former majesty, diversity and productivity. But amid short timber supplies and short tempers, mill closures and icy standoffs between arm-crossed workers and finger-pointing environmentalists, two professional foresters are running a down-home tree outfit that is shaming forest-managers and winning them luminary status among tree farmers throughout the country.

Bob Jackson and Leo Goebel are growing what they affectionately call a "complete forest" on 160 acres at the base of Oregon's Wallowa mountains. A richly textured fabric of biological diversity, with towering conifers and a full range of understory fauna and flora, the Goebel and Jackson Tree Farm turns out a steady flow of unthinkable volumes of timber. Their sustained annual harvest of 450 board feet per acre would be considered exceptional even on wet forests west of the Cascades. If the rest of Wallowa County's designated forest land were producing only half that volume, the county would need to add three new mills instead of watching mills close.

Seasoned foresters, Goebel and Jackson do not measure the year's abundance in crop yields, but rather in the health and vitality of the whole system. They consider it their professional responsibility to put botany, zoology and soil science together into a management style that neglects no detail of the forest web. Here is a case study in which disciplined attention to a forest's completeness has proved cost-effective and environmentally invigorating, showing that economic and ecological objectives are anything but mutually exclusive.

The numbers speak for themselves. When Goebel and Jackson bought their 160 acres in 1970, there were 1.9 million board feet of marketable timber. Since then, they have cut and sold 1.6 million board feet. Even after those sales, they have two million board feet of bigger and healthier trees remaining.

The only thing seemingly out of place on Jackson and Goebel's property is the "Tree Farm" sign at its entry. "Farm" brings to mind rows of even-aged crops grown to maturity for systemic harvesting. In many cares these farm signs show up to excuse replanted clearcuts. Goebel and Jackson reject the idea of fattening a sylvan calf for slaughter. As Goebel is fond of equating, "If you sell 90 percent of your best cows you're out of the cow business. When you clear-cut, there's nothing left to manage." lie and Jackson describe the lack of seed trees and damaged soil, following clear-cutting as a "total disaster." Instead they work by the principle that soil should be protected at all costs and forests ever cut so heavily that replanting is necessary.

A complete forest should be able to reproduce and grow itself in perpetuity without any loss in productivity or vitality. For many years however, local managers like Boise Cascade have exercised what they call, "depletion to achieve even-aged management" and "converting timber assets into cash assets." Bob Jackson describes this with obvious distress, as the "stick-it-in-your-pocket attitude." But an intolerance of clear-cutting is only one thing that differentiates these gentlemen from their peers.

In addition to clear-cutting, selective cutting of the genetically superior largest and healthiest trees has been a predominant cutting regime for 100 years in Oregon. Coupled with suppression of naturally-occurring fire, this practice has left stands of genetically inferior, diseased and insect-infected trees.

By contrast, Jackson and Goebel cut three to four percent of their worst trees every year. They are steadfast in the determination that if a tree is healthy then it doesn't make sense to cut it down. Leo gives a lesson in simple area geometry to demonstrate how a tree will put on progressively more volume. And though the rate of a tree's growth doesn't escalate forever, he explains that when a tree is 16-18 inches in diameter it is beginning to lay on vastly more wood per year than it has in the past. Where many forest managers are eager to cut 16 inch trees, Goebel and Jackson feel that is exactly the time to let them grow. They refuse to let the market dictate that species or diameters to cut. And they are proud of the admission that most of the trees on their land will not be harvested in their lifetimes.

Goebel and Jackson's cutting program also emphasizes salvage and spacing. This includes cutting dead or sick trees, and thinning when necessary, to release prime trees from stressful competition. Giving trees more space makes them less vulnerable to disease, insects, drought and fire. In conjunction with thinning, Goebel and his son, Ed, have been pruning selected trees up to their living crowns. Such pruning encourages them to grow high-priced, clear wood in successive years. It can rid a tree of parasitic mistletoe and allows more sunlight onto the forest floor to encourage understory and seedling growth.

With these practices, routine data keeping, and the addition of many tree tags, Goebel and Jackson's may sound like a highly systematized and manicured forest. And while one can easily picture Jackson taking solitary walks with long-handled snippers to tend isolated seedlings; this is anything but the Boboli garden. Above all Jackson and Goebel laud diversity. The richer the biological complexion, the more complete the forest. And with diversity, there is chaos. On one slope alone you might find all ages of ponderosa and lodgepole pine, grand and Douglas fir, larch, and spruce. As a complement one will find an understory in varying degrees of density, composed of a full range of deciduous tree species and brush; including ocean spray, snow berry and ground juniper, with three dozen distinct species of wildflowers, grasses and edible mushrooms.

Jackson adamantly describes diversity as an insurance policy for forest assets. With so many species-specific parasites and diseases invading the forest, a multiplicity of species and ages guarantees that the mortality of one will not substantially deplete the whole, and having a healthy whole will help in restoring the parts periodically depleted. In one area of the woodland, Jackson points out fir trees affected by armalaria a common root disease. He has isolated the pathogen by circum-planting ponderosa seedlings deemed to be more resistant. Because of "bio-controls" like this and general maintenance of diversity, Goebel and Jackson maintain 560 board feet of growth per acre annually, even in areas affected by root disease.

Healthy forests have healthy soils

Soil diversity is tantamount to species and age diversity. Jackson evangelizes the virtues of maintaining good soil with all of its life processes and organic elements in place: duff, litter, nutrients and the cryptogamic crust, rich in bacterial filaments, microrizoidal fungus and lichen, superficially protecting the soil from erosion and maintaining its ability to hold moisture. "The more you care for the soil, the more forms of life it will support," reminds Jackson. A good test of the complete forest is its ability to maintain and reproduce productive soil. Jackson insists that forests should never need to be treated with chemical fertilizers. "Needles, moss, lichen, branches, leaves, animal droppings -- that's our fertilizer. If you don't have the trees, you don't get the fertilizer." These conditions are impossible not only when has are too few but also when the ground is torn-up. And even though Goebel uses a crawler-tractor to skid logs out every, year, the trails of those logs are now full of regrowth and nearly impossible to see.

While slash is often considered a bothersome byproduct of logging, Goebel and Jackson find it an important resource. Scattered broadly on the forest floors, slash decomposes to build soils. Some slash is burned in small backyard-style piles, but it burns cool, doesn't sterilize the ground and tends to expose rings of mineral soil good for helping conifer seeds to germinate. Still other slash is piled into "wildlife structures" which provide cover for small birds, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels and rodents like voles, who are busy producing droppings rich in nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Piled slash also provides food for bugs, who might otherwise be gnawing at living trees.

Keeping an eye on wildlife diversity, Goebel and Jackson let the complex relationships in nature dictate their management prescriptions. For example, maintaining downed and standing dead wood not only insures soil building, but also provides habitat for ants. In exchange, ants eat defoliating pests like the spruce budworm and tussock moth larvae and provide a steady food supply to woodpecker and hears:

Where many trees are pruned, others are left thick with roosting areas for birds. Because hawks and owls are given roost in snags and understory branches, Goebel and Jackson build slash structures and leave thick understory areas to provide cover for prey. Depletion of rodent populations would result in a net loss of birds and prey. Rodents are also an important work force in the mechanical decomposition of woody debris.

In addition to bugs and birds and bushes, one might also have the fortune to see cougar, bobcat, coyote, elk, deer and other mammals in this woodland. No aspect of the forest circle seems to be missing. Yet this forest is still a working forest. To clarify the apparent irony, Goebel explains, "I honestly believe that you'll raise more trees and more wood per acre managing for a complete forest than if you raise just trees."

For all of its virtues, this is not an old growth forest. In fact, it was heavily logged of its large ponderosa pine in the 1920s and has certainly been grazed in the past because pasture grasses abound. Nor are there a notable number of critical large snags or large woody debris on the ground. As Goebel says, they have to pay the grocery bill too. But given that Goebel and Jackson have no intention of cutting healthy trees and have every intention of increasing their large woody debris and snags over time, this aging forest could easily resemble old growth someday.

While Goebel sifts with pride through award certificates and plaques attesting to the notoriety and success of their 25 years of work on this forest, Jackson diffuses the spectacle by admitting that human knowledge can be illusory.

They cant know at any one time if everything they are doing is right. They have no blanket prescription for forest management. But they can be responsive to the nuances and requirements of their site and let the principles of nature inform their decisions.

How feasible this kind of operation is for large scale managers. The problem, explains Goebel, is that large outfits have damaged their land. "To bring trashed stands back to the condition of this forest would take at least 70 years. And when there's been a clearcut, there's nothing left to manage. There's 100 years of restoration work to do and that's money out and no money in. They're logging and then not putting any money back into the land. They just take the money and take a trip to Hawaii."

"Forests are being managed by bookkeepers" continues Goebel. "It isn't the forester that's out there managing the timber. The CEO has to make money for the stockholders or they'll get a new CEO. He hires a forester who will buy him the logs as cheap as he can get them." Goebel concedes that in the old days, you couldn't sell a log with knots. But today he feels there is no excuse for clear-cutting or highgrading except economic expediency. Still, he qualifies his remarks with a hint of optimism. "I hope that now that the price of timber has jumped so drastically in the last two or three years, they will take some of that money and put it into stand improvement."

As for the US Forest Service, Jackson is confounded by the agency's inability to manage public land properly. He is amused by their penchant to spend millions of dollars doing research and collecting data to support knowledge about forests he says has been common for centuries. Jackson concedes that the restoration of millions of acres of badly damaged federal land to the specifications of his woodland would take untold number of people, time, money and a release from the sluggishness of federal bureaucracy. As for labor, Jackson cites his confusion that the 10 thousand troops, out of work at the end of the Gulf War and collapse of the Soviet Union, were not employed in the forest. It would have amounted to one thousand workers for each of our national forests and parks. "I feel that, socially, we're not using our human resources. I'd rather see them working."

If Goebel and Jackson are not flush with advice for other managers, it is because they are focused on doing their own work as well as they can. Their "Tree Farm" is a hands-on operation, intensively managed for its "completeness." Where Goebel might tend to see the forest in terms of its overall productivity, Jackson sees it more in terms of its poetry. In the end, their forests vigor, diversity and profitability is the result of a successful partnership between these ways of seeing. Goebel and Jackson do not pursue their work to win applause from the environmental community, they have proven that studious attention to environmental concerns is good business. As Jackson is fond of saying, "They say that environmentalists are rich kids that don't have to make a living off the land. What I say is that if they'd conduct their operations in environmentally sound ways, then the land would make them rich enough to become environmentalists."

Table of Contents
Chapter 7 Intro/Chapter 7.1/Chapter 7.2/Chapter 7.3/Chapter 7.4

Copyright (c) 1997-98 OLIFE -- Oregonians for Labor Intensive Forest Economics. All rights reserved.

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