Who Wants to Live Forever?

I was figuring out the rotation on 107 acres of twenty-eight year-old loblolly pine we just got. We will clear cut in five years, let it idle for a year or two, maybe put a few goats on it, and then apply biosolids and replant. You have to plan ahead. As I was thinking about it, however, I realized that my chances of seeing this cycle through are small and if I am still around, I probably will be unable to take part in the operation. I will be compost before this next generation of trees matures on that tract.

The funny thing is that older guys plant the most trees. Of course that might just be because only older guys can buy or inherit forest land. I got the land from a guy in his eighties. He planted (actually directed they be planted) the trees when he was about my age. He gave me a good deal on the land and it seems to me that one reason is that he wanted to give the land to someone who would take care of it. His kids evidently are not much interested in forestry. Sometimes people ask why I plant trees when I am reasonably certain that I will not see them mature. I am not sure. It is just what I do, a kind of habit. Some people say that you plant trees for the next generation. I don’t know if it’s all that true. The little trees are a joy for today too. How does the song go? “A promise for the future and a blessing for today.”

Forestry can be a good investment, provided you have the time. In the long run, reasonably managed pine forestry produces bigger returns than the average stock portfolio. But you have to love it too.  I imagine that land management could be an unpleasant chore for some people.

One of the things I like best about forestry is the “diplomacy.” I get to work with local farmers, hunters, foresters, loggers and paper and pulp firms. I find that a lot of people want to use my land and many are willing to help. Local hunters have been very helpful in establishing quail habitat and native warm season grasses. Our interests coincide. They want a healthy wildlife habitat to produce animals they can hunt. I am happy to have my land kept in a healthy state. A guy from a local paper mill helped me get locally grown longleaf pine and bald cypress. We have established an area of “Virginia heritage forest.” Of course this is another forest I will never see mature, but I can picture it in my mind.

Forestry is a good example of cooperation between individuals, government, business and NGOs. The State of Virginia sent a wildlife biologist who gave us advice on which types of vegetation to establish to encourage wildlife and protect soil and water resources. The state gives us training in things like fire management and we  get advice on forest health from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Virginia Tech holds all sorts of seminars on things like timber management and biosolids. We get advice from the Tree Farm System, America‚Äôs oldest sustainable forestry NGO. Dominion Power paid us to manage our land that lies under their power lines. We keep the land in grass and forbs. Wildlife loves it and it doesn’t bother their transmission lines. A local paper mill helped me write a management plan for one of my tracts. We are thinning to different densities. They want to show clients how different management regimes produce different results. The Boy Scouts came down to cut trails and build bridges.  The local hunt club maintains the roads and shoots the local varmints. Their presence discourages vandalism and dumping. It is a pretty good system, an integrated social web.

I try to take the kids along when I go to visit the farms. They comment about how happy and friendly everybody seems. That has also been my experience. I don’t really know why that is, but I have a theory, actually it is two-fold. I think forestry generally attracts people with a long term perspective and forestry teaches a long term perspective. It has a calming effect that brings joy in many things. You know your place and can be both active and passive. Forestry is subject to natural laws that cannot be rushed, but if you think ahead, understand the limits and work with the natural systems you can have remarkable achievements. Trying to rush the process produces no good and often a lot of bad, but a little leverage properly informed and a lot of time can make produce big results.

You just won’t live to see most of them. In the long run we are all dead. Once you understand that, you are free to be happy with the life you have.