Five weeks after the Labor Day Fires and things are getting quiet around the Starker office. The focus has wholly returned to our more regular sequences of forest management: cruising timber, building roads, laying out upcoming harvest units and replanting old ones. All this is happening without the regular help of our 10 summer interns.
September started out very exciting with the Labor Day east wind event and the subsequent fires. As most of you know, Starker properties were largely spared except for a few acres on a small powerline fire outside Alsea. SFI staff and the summer crew assisted ODF in constructing fire line and mopping up the local fire in Alsea before we were sent up to Dallas to help on a 5-acre fire on Weyerhaeuser land.
First, we lost two of our crew as they returned to their families to help battle area fires and clean up. One member’s family lost their home.
“I was very proud of the work of the summer crew,” Tyler said. “Both ODF and Weyerhaeuser expressed their gratitude as both organizations were able to commit folks to more complex incidents near Lincoln City and Molalla. If the recent fires have done anything, I hope they help to convince more of the public about proper fuels management and the need for effective prescribed burning sans prohibitory regulations.”
With the fire season ending this week, woods folk of Western Oregon can look forward to new foliage color pallets, the fall rains, big game hunting and for those attending the College of Forestry – a return to school, albeit virtually. Traditionally, our summer interns are students at Oregon State University, although there have been students from elsewhere, including from the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin.
This time of year always reminds me of arguably the most famous forester from Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold. A student of the grandfather of forestry, Gifford Pinchot, Leopold graduated from the Yale School of Forestry and began working immediately for the U.S. Forest Service on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Leopold would go on to lay the foundations of wilderness management in the United States as well as to describe the tenants of the land ethic in his seminal piece, A Sand County Almanac. The book is a quick read describing the changes in the land at different time scales from the annual succession of seasons to the long-term history of conservation in the United States. Leopold describes the timeline of environmental history in the United States relating specific events to the rings of a Wisconsin white oak he’s falling on his farm in rural Southern Wisconsin.
Given the economic and political turmoil facing our country today, I think it is pertinent to look back on the ideas of conservation outlined by figures such as Leopold. Conservation is neither rigid environmentalism and preservation nor the unadulterated pillaging of the landscape, be it through mining, commercial agriculture or logging. Rather, conservation requires the use of a critical lens and realism to understand the landscape and make informed decisions on which components of ecological and cultural systems warrant preserving and which provide surplus from which humans can responsibly extract necessary resources. Leopold’s land ethic challenges human beings with welcoming ecological communities into our own. Using this approach, we humans should view members of ecological communities in a similar way to members of our own community. Just as the diversity of plants and animals use a variety of items from the natural world within which they live, so too should humans. We are an intrinsic part of natural communities, despite our attempts to believe otherwise. Moreover, Native American tribes have included themselves as parts of these communities for time immemorial.
We should remember that the world provides a plethora of natural resources for us and every other member of the community to use. It is our job as foresters and students, whether formally or informally, to recognize the ebb and flow of the landscape and to understand what is truly a sustainable take.
Anthropologists and citizens alike will tell you that to be strong members of any community requires give and take. You, nor your human neighbors would likely think nothing of borrowing or lending a cup of sugar should there be a need and a surplus, but if your neighbor was running low, you might look elsewhere to find that sugar for your pumpkin bread. This logic is extended in sound strategies for forest and wildlife management. True, understanding whether or not a surplus exists in these resources requires a bit more study than texting your neighbor if they have any extra sugar, but like being a good neighbor, understanding the ability of a natural resource to give without harm requires honest communion.
This communion comes from a continuous study of the woods, be it at Oregon State, Wisconsin, Yale or in the pickup truck with your 30-30 across your lap looking for that ghostly blacktail. So happy studying and happy hunting to all and best of luck to our summer interns in school and beyond!
Tyler Peterka, Forester, Starker Forests