Our New Forest

We bought 178 ½ acres of land in Brunswick County, Virginia. For comparison, Humboldt Park in Milwaukee is around 90 acres. Owning a forest has long been my dream. This will be a forest soon. It was cut over in 2001 and replanted with loblolly pine in 2003. Loblolly is the most important timber tree in the Southeast. Southern pine (which include loblolly, slash, shortleaf and longleaf pine) supplies 58% of the timber used in the U.S.

The pines on our land are genetically superior super trees and will grow fast. I took the pictures below in June. When I went back in August, some had literally doubled their size and some were taller than I was.

We also have a lot of hardwood on the place and three creeks. The hardwoods are about as old as I am. I have a wonderful little grove of beech trees near one of the creeks and some very big white oak, tulip tree and sweet gum. The under story bushes are American holly. It grows wild down here. The land will just get nicer each year. I am looking forward to growing my trees and taking care of things like the wetlands.

There is a group of hunters who lease hunting rights. They are local guys who take care of the land for me. They claim to have hunted this land for more than 100 years (their families at least). They tell me they will run off anyone who tries to cause trouble and I believe they will.

I also joined the Virginia Forestry Association. Next year I will be the communications director for the Virginia Tree Farm. It doesn’t pay anything, but I think it will be fun. I hope also to meet people who can help me figure out how to best care for my land.

You can tell how excited the kids were to be there.

Science Improving Nature

Big changes come on little cat feet to envelop us. Then we forget what life was like before. Polio, the scourge of childhood, disappeared like many other afflictions nobody much remembers. Most American kids don’t get cavities any more – amazing to those of us old enough to recall one cavity per dental visit was a great result. Change often comes in little packages, but it is compounding* and that makes a difference.

One recent great event that happened without our notice is biotechnology. If you are wondering whether you should use biotech products, forget it. I said happened, not happening. Almost all of you have eaten biotech foods, probably today. The cotton in your t-shirt was probably grown with the help of biotech. If you buy a new house you will be living in a partially bioengineered structure. Biotechnology will revolutionize the manufacture of medicines, the production of energy and the preservation of the environment.We have been cultivating biotech crops commercially for about ten years now. 400 million hectares (hectare = 2.47 acres) of genetically enhanced biotech crops have been grown. Farmers are adopting biotech crops faster than any crop varieties in the history of agriculture. Since their introduction in 1996, genetically enhanced biotech crop use has grown at a rate of more than 10% per year. In 2004 it was up to around 20%. The main crops carrying biotech genes are soybean (56%), maize (14%), cotton (28%), and canola (19%). Percentages are of the worldwide acreage for these crops. In the U.S., biotech soybean (herbicide resistant), maize (herbicide and insect resistant), and cotton (herbicide and insect resistant) account respectively for approximately 85%, 75%, and 45% of total acreage. 

Want renewable energy? We can talk about wind, solar AND biotech. Advances in biotechnology have enabled the production of large amounts of inexpensive cellulases that convert cellulose to simple sugars that that can be fermented into fuels such as ethanol. Biotechnology could enhance biomass yield density, improve processing of biomass feedstock and decrease the need for water, fertilizer, and pesticides. In other words, we can literally turn garbage into gasoline substitute.

This is really nothing new. We have been altering plants and animals since before we were fully evolved humans. But biotech can do it faster and with fewer unplanned side effects. We can use less fertilizer, less pesticide and we can do it with less work. Read the story of wheat.

A big innovation comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over our lives on silent haunches and then moves on (with apologies to Carl Sandburg). When it’s over we just think that is how it always was. But we are better off.

* Albert Einstein called compound interest the most powerful force in the universe.