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Respecting the Magnificent Forest

By Ben Thompson

Forests are the creator of a very large percentage of the oxygen on earth.  Of all the plants and animals, trees seem to make the greatest contribution to the forest.  So perhaps one could say trees are one of the most valuable living things with the role of supporting other living things.  Forests provide food, shelter and homes for countless plants and animals including human beings.  All living things in the forest are created to fill a certain role, from bacteria to Grizzley bears, from tiny flowers to giant Redwoods:  they all make up the balance of nature.  Nothing is ever considered waste, and everything is adaptable and fluctuates according to the needs of the whole.  This balance of nature is what makes the earth work.    It is so complex we have been studying it for centuries and we will be studying it for centuries to come.

Through the years I’ve observed and thought a lot about how human beings fit into this magnificent scenario.  We have been given the ability to think and act beyond instinct and to choose what we do and how we do it.  We are the only living things that can recklessly use our power to control and change this balance of nature, which could over time lead to our own destruction.   I believe God gave us the ability and the responsibility to take care of this great earth that He created. 

My family and I started what is currently known as RBM Lumber in 1980.  We knew very little about business or forestry.  We thoroughly enjoyed figuring things out and working hard.  In the last 40 years we have continually evolved more and more into using nature as our guide to run our business and to work in the forest.  Some key values we use from nature are:  1.  We try to waste as little as possible—nature wastes nothing.  2.  We try to use everything for the most long-lasting use possible.  3.  We don’t always do things the easiest way.  4.  We are mindful of all living things.  5.  We want to give at least as much as we take—everything in nature does this.  6.  We greatly respect our ability to choose.  This is something that nature doesn’t have.  It depends on us to use this freedom of choice wisely.  7.  If we work together and don’t get greedy everything works better in the big picture.  8.  We try to emulate the fact that nature doesn’t get in a hurry and is not lazy.  9.  In general nature is in balance when there is more than enough.  As soon as there is just enough there is not enough—there is a problem with the balance.  That’s when a certain species can go extinct and a ripple effect of changes can happen that we may not be seen or recognized.  So, we work to not over-use.  For example:  we don’t want to take every tree till there’s almost enough left, or there won’t be enough left.  10.  Using self-discipline in doing what we do for the best result in the big picture is our greatest challenge.  Nature doesn’t need self-discipline because it does what it was created to achieve, and it cannot become greedy.

There are a few values we have learned from observing nature, we know that there are many more.  When we work in the woods, we are continually mindful of what we are leaving behind and how we can provide an environment that will sustain all the other living things within there.  The forest is a garden for all to enjoy and use.  We don’t want to be shortsighted and greedy in our forestry decisions, we want to make this garden more productive in every way we can.  If the forest was an art project, we would want it to be a masterpiece, life the Mona Lisa.

When we process logs at our mill, we use everything that we can use throughout the process.  We create products that make the most efficient use possible.  We use logs down to 3” in diameter and lumber down to 3’ long and 2” wide.  We use the treetops for fuel, bark for landscaping, sawdust for fuel (which could also be available for fiberboard), slabs for pellets (also available for fiberboard), and sander dust for pellets.  We try to make all parts of the log into the highest value and longest lasting products we can.  We also want to show the natural beauty and character of wood as much as possible.  To create the best use of all our wood, we make a lot of paneling, flooring, benches and tables, doors, and beams.  What we do is labor intensive:  we look at all aspects of a board to figure out what to use it for.  This takes knowledge, creativity, and interest; we cannot get in a hurry and we can’t be lazy.  We owe it to the forest to do our best.

We try to use older equipment if we can because it took a lot of energy to make it in the first place.  We reuse materials and supplies as much as possible out of respect for how nature reuses everything.  When one machine is too old, we use the good parts for repairs etc.  We believe that our mind is our greatest asset and physical work keeps us healthy.  As much as possible we want our work to make use of people and our ability to think and act instead of machines.  I have noticed that the closer we work to the trees and the woods and the more we are aware of the principles of the forest the better decisions we can make. 

We like to give our customers a product that they can really enjoy and that promotes a connection to nature.  We are not against making a profit, but we can’t violate our other values to make that profit, and this big picture value guided decision making may result in making less profit at times. 

The demand for our product is higher than our ability to produce what is wanted by our customers, and we continue to do all that we can to help them.  There is always more to do than what we can do.  For example:  there are little trees to thin, blowdown that can be harvested and used (but not over-used), boards that could be sorted better for their best use, the list is endless!  The reason I would like to do it all is that it fits in with practicing the principles of the forest for the big-picture-good of the forest.   All the extra work of practicing these principles makes me feel like someone growing a flower garden, with the reward of how it makes them feel when they look at that garden in full bloom.  It’s an awesome privilege to do what we do every day.  I “Work” a lot, and I’ve been told I need to get a life.  But this IS my life and I don’t call it work.  I call it life.  I like to contribute to something bigger than me and this is Very Big, even though frequently I’m just cutting a log or putting a board in the best pile, or helping someone figure out what kind of door or floor they like the best.

There are a variety of people that work for us with a variety of approaches to life and work.  We employ people who want to make a living and feel good about what they are doing.  The hardest people to find are the ones with a passion that far surpasses making a living.  We want to include and share the incredible opportunities this business provides with others, especially those who have a humble desire to contribute to helping our forest and earth and to using its resources in a beneficial way for the forest.  Of course, I make a living doing this, but that’s not why I do it.

What I have written just scratches the surface of all these subjects.  It’s as hard to write what I’m thinking as it is to capture the grandeur of Glacier Park in a picture or tell someone how awesome a Redwood grove really is.  The magnificence of God’s creation is beyond explanation and this privilege to have a small part in taking care of it is humbling beyond words.  Every time I look across the forest covered mountains and the streams and snow-covered peaks, I say Thank you God for all of this!

 

RMB Lumber Montana Wood Products and Lumber Mill

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