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Sustainable Forestry


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.  


Summary of best practices for sustainable forestry in RBM’s “Observational Forestry Model”

VALUE WHAT IS CONSIDERED WASTE. Frequently what we consider “waste” is valuable to the forest.  Human beings value diamonds.  To the Woodpecker, snags are diamonds. Mice and bugs value brush. The ‘diamonds’ of the forest are the nutrients from rotting wood.  Brush is valuable! We leave brush for animals, birds and insects. We learn to view ”waste” from nature’s point of view rather than from purely economic views. 

LET NATURE GUIDE WHAT WE LEAVE. Every species that grows is important and has a purpose whether we know it or not. Each species is important to the balance of that forest. We work to avoid over-harvest of species that are considered the most useful or necessary. We try not to create brush piles. But if we do, we don’t burn them. We let brush fall where it was cut. We leave some of everything nature leaves: Fallen trees, burned trees, snags, bare ground.

LET NATURE GUIDE WHAT WE REMOVE. We log selectively — take the time and care to do this. We thin in a natural way to promote balance, foster the sun-loving seral species with the goal to maintain the mix of species that is natural to that area. We work with native species and do not modify natural genetics.

USE TREES WISELY. We try to use high value trees for high value, long lasting products, with less emphasis on newsprint, boxes, toilet paper or firewood. There are other alternatives that would employ more people and make better use of our forests. Industrial hemp, for example would be a more sustainable and productive option, with 50,000 proven uses, from paper to food to clothing to fuel.

VALUE DIVERSITY. Diversity makes a forest stronger. At RBM we believe that every different plant and an animal represented in any given forest plays a role in the health of that forest. To maintain this health, we must maintain this diversity. We work to balance the harvest of the sun-loving trees like fir and larch which tend to be over-harvested and tend to be replaced by the shade-tolerant species.  Modest intervention can promote various species and multi-age forests which include old growth. 

COOPERATE WITH NATURE’S DISTURBANCES.  Old-growth forests need occasional disturbances to maintain their health. Sporadic fires play a part in forest health and regeneration. There are “stand replacement fires” that seem to “kill everything” in the forest. These intense fires have been a part of natural history if there has been forest and fire, and they create an even age forest. Nature’s way of promoting the sun-loving seral species is through these intense ‘kill everything’ fires. The human way of promoting seral species has historically been through clear cut practices. Small local fires that occur in nature have the effect of keeping brush and small trees under control, while keeping an entire army of birds and insects at work converting the products of fire into useful life sustaining ingredients. If we allowed the small ‘creep along’ fires to burn, the understory brush would be minimized and would prevent the larger uncontrollable fires. The disturbance caused by minor logging can partially replace the non-lethal fires that we put out. They can also help to minimize the out of control fires. 


A word about salvage timber

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 windstorms, while the tallest and oldest Douglas fir and larch trees will tend to be effected by the wind to a larger degree.


General Principles:

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 disturbance 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.

RMB Lumber Montana Wood Products and Lumber Mill


RBM Lumber Columbia Falls MT | Montana Lumber Products