An old growth forest is the very definition of sustainability. Nothing is wasted; even the occasional natural fire or fallen trees in a windstorm are not waste. Every event provides nutrients and adds to the diversity of nature. Disturbances are a necessary part of this process. If we observe an old growth forest and use it for a model, maybe that is the answer to identifying sustainable principles.
To us at RBM it seems self-evident that Nature provides the best model for imitation. And yet we’re part of an industry that struggles to get in step with the sustainable systems nature has put in place.
The photo above is of a Douglas fir “farm” in Oregon. Some of this kind of tree farming is okay. But we can’t expect this kind of management to support the delicate balance of nature. For this reason we don’t consider this type of forest management to be sustainable. We need to figure out how to keep as much of the land as possible in its naturally productive state and use it for our benefit in that state without changing it.
Our normal practices are changing the face of the natural forest.
Salvage trees are trees that are dead (because of fire, referred to as “fire-kill”), down (because of wind, referred to as “blow-down”) or dying, (because of beetle infestation, referred to as “beetle-kill”). Though salvage logs are a vital part of RBM’s raw materials, they are not the only source. Other materials come from hard working loggers in our area. There are different approaches and different opinions on how to best serve human need and the needs of the forest. Based on our observations of nature, we see that the forest itself is not best served by a strict reliance on salvage logs only. If we all were to adopt a “salvage wood only” policy, it would not produce a sustainable method of forest management. This is because the disruptions of nature that create fire-kill, beetle-kill and blow-down do not affect all species to the same degree. Grand fir does not tend to blow down in wind storms, while the tallest and oldest Douglas fir and larch trees will tend to be effected by the wind to a larger degree.
At RBM Lumber, we take a very long-term view of trees, the forests, and the enormous part they play in the natural cycle of life. The forests have been growing, regenerating, changing, and adapting for millions of years. They have responded to devastation by a variety of diseases, fires, and climate changes. They reproduce, survive, and alter their growth patterns over time to adapt to their changing environment. This natural process is proven. We believe this process deserves respect and imitation as we enter the forests to gather a sustainable portion of their timber yield for human uses.
Our forests are home to a myriad of minerals, plants, and animals that today include tiny organisms invisible to the unaided human eye, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, mosses, lichen, leafy and wood plants, and evergreen and deciduous trees. Any disturbance in the forest will affect this web of life. For the most part we minimize disturbance to any location in which we log. And yet there are times when more distubance is beneficial.
Our challenge is to enter this perpetual life cycle without interrupting it. By studying the stories told by the life of trees, and by nature itself, we can learn how to treat the forest and the land. We can learn how to imitate what nature does. We can follow Nature’s lead on how many and what trees we can safely take and when to take them. We believe it is our responsibility to be wise stewards of this gift of beauty, and that any financial profit must come from within the bounds of that larger responsibility. It is this belief that is the foundation of our approach to working in the forest.