Preface
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Conclusion
Postface

 

 

 

Preface.

I find myself at a turning point in my forestry career. For the last nearly nine years, I have been working as a Consulting Forester in eastern Virginia, a job I have found to be satisfying, fun and rewarding. While there are no internal forces pushing me away, my wife and I are in the process of selling our house and will soon be hitting the road in a two hundred square foot travel trailer. For the next several months, we intend to travel across the country exploring new places, meeting new people, and learning as much as possible. Eventually we intend to settle outside of the southeast, and I have no intention of leaving the Forestry profession. 


The decision to leave the only state either of us have ever called home, with no certain prospects for future employment, could certainly be considered rash and risky, but we are nothing but optimistic and excited for the future. Like many of my colleagues at Virginia Tech, I considered a westward move early in my career. However, when I was offered an attractive, full-time position close to home, I jumped at the opportunity and have no regrets doing so. The last nine years have been exceptional. I have learned a tremendous amount about forestry in Virginia and consulting while growing and maturing as a person. Until about six months ago, I thought I had the rest of my career planned out. I genuinely enjoyed what I was doing, felt like I was reasonably good at it, and was positioned to eventually take over the consulting firm at which I worked. Both my wife’s and my families are in Virginia and after nearly a decade in the same area, we have both developed a strong network of friends.  We’ve “planted roots” as people say. In addition, after four years of trying to expand the business, we had finally hired someone who had the capacity to take on a lot of responsibility and allow us to grow  in a way we had been attempting for years. Everything was lining up for a long and bright future in eastern Virginia. 

I struggle to put my finger on an exact reason for this decision. A series of western trips over the last few years surely played a role. The first of these trips was in the summer of 2015. I flew out to see a friend from forestry school who was working in Coos Bay, Oregon at the time. Over the course of a week, we drove through most of Oregon down to the Redwoods of northern California and back. The second trip was to Glacier National Park in the summer of 2018 and included a proposal to my now wife at Iceberg Lake. In 2019 we took a two-week honeymoon, driving a giant loop in Nevada and California, flying into and out of Las Vegas. Starting with a week camping in Yosemite Valley, we then visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We drove through Red Rock Canyon on our way back through Nevada, also exploring Hoover Dam and Lake Meade before heading home. Most recently, last summer, my wife and I flew into Portland and worked our way down to Southwest Oregon where we spent a week with the same friend from Coos Bay, who is now living and working in Klamath Falls. All these trips were fun and memorable, but none left us seriously saying “We should move west”. 

Shortly after returning from last year’s trip, I was made aware of an interesting employment opportunity on the west coast that may become available. The job sounded attractive and just coming off a good trip, we became intrigued. As soon as we started seriously considering a move, our excitement over the idea only grew. For me, the nervous anticipation of such a risky and complete change in nearly every aspect of my life was intoxicating and we soon made our decision: one way or another, we were going to make a major transition. In part, I think my desire to do this comes from a healthy curiosity I have always had. I certainly don’t claim to have learned all I could about consulting in eastern Virginia, in fact I still learn new things most days, but after a while In the same place, I’ve experienced a sort of diminishing return when it comes to new experiences. Being thrown into a completely different environment is scary yet extremely intriguing to me. 

The job opportunity I had been considering did not pan out on the expected timeline, but since our excitement was only growing, we decided to prepare to make a change regardless. The last six moths have been spent finishing some long overdue projects on our house, selling said house, researching and procuring a travel trailer and tow vehicle, moving a surprisingly significant accumulation of possessions into storage, and making other arrangements to prepare for a Spring 2021 departure. It has been overwhelming but progress has been made and we are ready to hit the road in mid-April (about a month from this writing). 

One thing I know about myself is I do not do well with extended periods of downtime. Without goals to work towards and a sense of productivity, boredom and inactivity bring out bad habits and frustration. For the sake of my sanity (and marriage) I needed a plan to stay busy, active, and interested. We have investigated a few volunteer opportunities with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, but for me, something related to forestry seemed ideal. Through the Association of Consulting Foresters (ACF) and other professional organizations, I have made some contacts in the profession beyond Virginia. A good working relationship and friendship with ACF’s Executive Director, Shannon McCabe, was also available to leverage. 

One of my goals as we travel over the next several months is to find small ACF firms across the country who will, in exchange for labor and company, take me in for about a week and show me what they do. I reached out to Shannon and asked if she thought my idea was sound: Were there firms out there that would be interested in opening their doors to an utter stranger with nothing more than a loose affiliation through ACF? Shannon’s response was better and more supportive than I could have expected. Beyond assuring me that I had not fully lost my sanity, she offered to help me locate potentially suitable firms and serve as a reference to assure them this was not some sort of anti-competitive conspiracy. 

In addition, Shannon floated the idea of my writing about these encounters for possible publication in some form or another. Why not? With decent editing, I consider myself an adequate writer. I have some experience writing for and serving on the Virginia Forestry Association’s editorial committee. At worst, writing short articles would help keep me busy and provide a record for personal reflection. At best, ACF will decide to disseminate them and perhaps they will provide some inspiration or at least entertainment for readers. 

So, that’s the plan. We are leaving on April 17th and heading to southwest Virginia to visit an old friend, possibly do some volunteer work for a non-profit with a property outside Lynchburg before heading further west. Our route is loosely planned, and our schedule is flexible. We are looking at spending a week or two in Missouri first, then heading to Colorado. From Colorado our route and schedule become less clear. Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana are top contenders through maybe June or July, if we are still the road beyond that, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are on the shortlist. 

I look forward to sharing our experience with you.  If you would like to connect or suggest a place we should visit in our travels, please reach out!

Dan Wilson
Wandering Forester
Parts Unknown
[email protected]

Wilson Adventures On Wheels on  

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Three Rivers Forestry, LLC.
Tappahannock, Virginia 
Summer 2011, August 2012-April 2021

 Virginia is a geographically diverse state with five physiographic provinces, two mountain ranges, valleys and coastline. From west to east these five provinces are: Appalachian Plateau, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge, Piedmont and Coastal Plain (commonly referred to as “Tidewater”.) The Tidewater Region contains three peninsulas protruding into the Chesapeake Bay. Containing four counties and bounded by the Potomac River to the north and the Rappahannock River to the south, the Northern Neck is the most northern of the three peninsulas. The Middle Peninsula is, well, in the middle, and the Virginia Peninsula is the furthest south.  Essex is one of six counties that make up Virginia’s Middle Peninsula; bounded by the Rappahannock River to the north and the York River to the South. Tappahannock, a small town in Essex County with around 2,500 full-time residents is situated on the southern banks of the Rappahannock River, and is home to Three Rivers Forestry, LLC’s headquarters, though the firm’s work extends throughout The Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.


The terrain of eastern Virginia is deceiving and often misrepresented, what appears to be flat and devoid of visible topography from the road contains significant hills and gullies, albeit limited in vertical stature, obscured just behind the treeline of fields and marshes. Timberlands in the Tidewater contain a mix of pine plantations (mostly loblolly), upland hardwood (oak, yellow-poplar, sweetgum, hickory, beech, etc.) sites and bottomland hardwoods. Land ownership in this region is overwhelmingly non-industrial private with occasional industrial (Timberland Investment Management Organization (TIMO)/fee land) holdings and little state/federal government ownership, with the notable exception of a few large military installations. 

Three Rivers Forestry (TRF) was founded, and is solely owned, by John Magruder. A Pennsylvania native, John graduated from Penn State University in 1986 and began his forestry career with the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), serving as an Area Forester for Essex County until he left to start Three Rivers Forestry in 1998. A man of unusual character and capacity, John’s ability to simultaneously wear numerous hats is exceeded only by his ability to volunteer-or be volunteered-for additional roles and projects, typically related to his faith, family, profession, and community. In addition to managing a successful consulting firm and making time for his family, John serves on the Essex County Board of Supervisors, is involved with the local Boy Scouts troop, is active with his church, even preaching from time to time, sits on numerous forestry boards, councils, committees, served as the president of the Virginia Forestry Association in 2020, and much more. 

From inception, TRF has been focused primarily on providing high quality consulting forestry services to private landowners. Long-term management and relationships have always been central to TRF’s success. In the case of final harvest projects, we never tried to discount our services or “race to the bottom” in order to win a job. For harvest projects, TRF does not offer a “base package” with optional additions. TRF’s philosophy has been to focus on landowners who need and value continuing involvement from their consultant. By providing “turn-key” services on all projects, TRF’s commission on timber sales tends to be at the high end of what is typical in the region. Most prospective clients find the level of service to be competitive relative to the commission, especially when we to take the time to explain all that we would provide on a certain project. During a harvest, weekly contract compliance inspections are universal and post-harvest services included: Assisting landowners in procuring reforestation cost-share funds, prescribed burning, planting quality inspections, 1-year seedling survival examinations, and just about anything else that a landowner may request. Very rarely did I have a landowner come up with something that was outside of our included sale services. 

Typically, the only tasks TRF outsources are large scale herbicide application, tree planting, and pre-commercial thinning. TRF has longstanding relationships with contractors who provide these services, and we would work with the landowner and contractor to design prescriptions that achieved the landowner’s objectives. Beyond timber sales, TRF has Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Technical Service Providers (TSPs) on staff and works with landowners to navigate EQIP and other NRCS programs. We always considered new and different opportunities, but the priority was to retain and service quality clients. John would say “Take the bitter with the sweet”, meaning not every job has to be hugely profitable as long as it leads to or supports quality work. One somewhat non-typical service TRF offers is custom sawmilling. TRF owns and operates a portable WoodMizer LT-40 hydraulic sawmill.

Prior to my departure, TRF’s team included three foresters, one technician, a part-time office administrator/bookkeeper, and one intern during most summer breaks. Altogether, TRF manages approximately 80,000 acres of timberland across 26 Virginia counties, with close to 75% of this land within a contiguous 10 county area. TRF clients range from 10-acre woodlots to semi-industrial, to private landowners with a few thousand acres of forestland. TRF has not historically pursued any TIMO/REIT work but has some municipal land under management. Annual harvest figures fluctuate with markets and weather. In an “average” year, TRF markets and oversees approximately 1,600 acres (20 MMBF) of final harvest, 900 acres of pine thinning, and 100 acres of hardwood shelterwood harvest. From the final harvest acreage, around 1,300 acres is reforested in pine annually.  Close to 75% of this land is prescribed burned by TRF as part of the site-preparation process. 

An aerial herbicide application followed by a prescribed burn is TRF’s preferred site-prep method on most sites. To my knowledge, including understory burning, no company in the state of Virginia burns more acreage of forestland annually. Although hardwood management is a priority for many of TRF’s clients, TRF’s land base includes a large percentage of “farmed out” soils that are not very productive for desirable, native hardwood species and many landowners opt for the shorter rotation length afforded by improved loblolly pine seedling. For clients focused on economics and relatively fast returns, loblolly pine in this area can be grown to sawtimber (12-14” avg DBH) on a 25–30-year rotation with a single commercial thinning around age 16. Second thinnings were common in this area decades ago when higher premiums were placed on larger diameter pine (16”+ DBH). These days, second thinning is usually reserved for wildlife-oriented landowners and these second “wildlife” thinnings are quite heavy, leaving a residual stand with BA 40-50. These “Pine Savannahs” are maintained by frequent prescribed burning and provide excellent habitat for many native game species, particularly Northern Bobwhite Quail. Many landowners qualify for, and receive, generous cost-share funding through the Southern Pine Savannah Restoration Program, administered by NRCS under Working Lands for Wildlife.

My first encounter with TRF was in 2011 when I was selected for a summer internship as a rising Senior at Virginia Tech. I applied for the internship via mail and had few phone interviews. I had not met anyone from the company before arriving in Tappahannock. I was aware of, and agreeable to, the “basic but sufficient” accommodations that were provided with the internship. The day before I was set to start, John called me to tell me the paint needed to dry on the floor of the “house” I was to stay in, so he had made reservations for me at the Super 8 and advised me to meet him across the street at Shoney’s the next morning. After mutually causing serious damage to the breakfast buffet, we set about our task for my first day: a prescribed site-prep burn of about 40 acres in northern Essex County, what would be my first of many prescribed burns. The tract was far from extraordinary, but I will not soon forget this first day as the air temperature was 99 degrees with a heat index of 110. Having spent the proceeding months mostly sitting in a classroom and perhaps drinking more beer than is advisable, my body was woefully unprepared for the heat.  By 1:00pm, fatigue and cramping had confined me to a small patch of shade beneath the tailgate of a truck, counting ticks and contemplating the decisions that had led me to this point. I often remind myself of this day when burning with new help and try to give them the same benefit that was afforded me on my first day. I imagine John and his Technician Billy chuckled that evening and wondered if they would ever find decent help. If I were to go back in time to that day, I would likely have said “Yeah, that guy isn’t going to make it”. 

Perhaps surprisingly, I did make it. And, after nearly a decade I hope that I have made as much of an impact on Three Rivers Forestry as my time here has made on me. The company has grown during my tenure and I am proud of many of the things I have accomplished. Transitioning from paper files and “old school” hip-chain cruising to an in-house ESRI database and use of high-quality GPS mapping and cruising solutions are just a few of the legacies I’ve leave. These were breakthrough advancements for us and something I imagined and created, with internal and external support of course. As I suspect is the case with most consultants, though, the relationship with our clients is the most important and lasting impact we can have. After all, without the faith and trust of landowners, no consultant can be successful. 

 

 

Chapter 2

Missouri
4/21/2021 - 5/2/2021

My time in Missouri began in the Ozarks, more specifically Lake of the Ozarks State Park, where Heather and I spent four nights exploring the park and surrounding area. The forest canopy of Missouri is heavily dominated by hardwood species familiar to me from my time in Virginia: white and red oaks, hickory, ash, and elm are abundant here. I did observe many subtle differences in species composition and structure compared to the hardwood stands of Virginia (which are quite diverse across the state and even within small areas as aspect and soils change). Black walnut, ash and elm are much more abundant in Missouri’s hardwood canopies. Cottonwood as a common, dominant, native tree was new to me and something I would continue to see in abundance as I continued West from Missouri. Oversimplified into a simple statement: Much of the woods I observed in Missouri looked like a poor to fair coastal Virginia oak-hickory stand. 

Many Missouri oak stands looked like the desired, yet rarely attained, result of some of my previous management work. Throughout Missouri, I walked through oak stands with an oak canopy dominance so strong, I wondered if perhaps Virginia should send some foresters to Missouri for a lesson in oak regeneration.  While the challenges are certainly different, and vary from site to site, Missouri seems to be extraordinarily successful regenerating oaks compared to Virginia, even with all the time, money, and energy currently going into Virginia’s Hardwood Initiative. Missouri foresters know how to regenerate oaks, and the good ones do so on an impressive scale. It is worth noting that oak management in Missouri if different in different parts of the state. There is a saying in Missouri that “you could drop a bomb on the Ozarks and it would regenerate in oak-hickory”. Further to the northwest, I would encounter similar challenges to what I experienced in Virginia: mature to over-mature oak stands succeeding to later successional, more shade tolerant, less desirable species. Where Virginia struggles with sweetgum, red maple, blackgum, etc., northwest Missouri’s equivalents were ironwood and ash.

There was one difference in Missouri hardwood stands that immediately slapped me in the face and continued to impress me for the two weeks I was in the state: the abundance and dominance of dogwood in the mid-story. In late April (particularly in the Ozarks), white dogwood flowers form such a near contiguous mid-story under the partially foliated spring oak canopy that, with proper timing, it would likely result in some interesting aerial photographs that I imagine would look like light snow cover. I made a comment to Heather that the flowering dogwood should be the state tree of Missouri, not Virginia. A quick Google search revealed that flowering dogwood is, in fact, the state tree of both Virginia and Missouri. If there would ever be a competition or trial with singular rights to the tree up for grabs, I cannot imagine Missouri would lose its state tree.  

From Lake of the Ozarks, we traveled approximately 150 miles north to Chillicothe, Missouri: the home of sliced bread and my first official Wandering Forester assignment. Following the advice of Shannon, I had contacted Phil Sneed, ACF of Blackwell Creek Forestry, LLC and he graciously agreed to host me for a week. Phil studied forestry at Purdue where his collegiate training was interrupted when he was called up from the US Marine Corps Reserve for deployment in Operation Desert Storm. Once his service was completed, Phil returned to Purdue where he completed his Forestry Degree in 1995. Shortly after graduating, Phil took a part-time forestry job with the Missouri Department of Conservation, (MDC) the state’s forestry agency). In 1997 Phil was offered and accepted a fulltime position in the Ozarks with MDC and then in 1999  transferred to Chillicothe where he worked as a resource forester on private and public lands. 

By 2016, Phil sensed that MDC was transitioning to the “Southern Model”, in which - often for budgetary/staffing reasons - state agencies transition from doing much work on private lands to focusing on enforcement and public land management, leaving the boots-on-the-ground private land work for the consulting forester. A similar transition to the Southern Model is what drove my former employer, John Magruder, away from The Virginia Department of Forestry and helped precipitate the creation of Three Rivers Forestry, LLC. In 2016, out of that same desire to stay in the woods assisting private landowners implement high quality forest management on their lands, Phil left MDC and started Blackwell Creek Forestry, LLC in Chillicothe, Missouri, where he remains today. The first few years were slow for Phil, building a client base in an area where working with private consultants was a cultural shift for many landowners as most were used to working with MDC on their management - even timber sale administration.. Over the last five years Phil has grown his business to the point that he can find more work than he can do with only four part-time employees and is now looking to expand his firm by adding one or two full-time positions. 

My first day in the woods with Phil was spent marking individual trees for a timber sale. To be more precise, we traversed an approximately 40-acre parcel of grazed woods, where we selected and tallied 92 black walnut trees for harvest. To a coastal Virginia forester, the parcel resembled an oversized hedgerow. Besides the black walnut, which made up about 50% of the basal area, there was abundant locust and cottonwood in the overstory and the understory was dominated by briars and grasses. Phil’s selection criteria were extensive; Each tree was inspected and analyzed before a “cut” or “no cut” decision was made. The crown health, diameter, number of logs, size and location of defects, and proximity of nearby growing stock was all evaluated before a tree was selected for harvest. This was to be an improvement harvest. Nearly every tree we marked for harvest had some sort of defect or issue preventing it from being considered acceptable growing stock. We only encountered a couple of nice “mature” Walnut trees with > 22” diameter at breast height (DBH). Each “cut” tree’s location was GPSed and volume data was collected using Forest Matrix. This tract was to be put out for bid. 

The third day of my Missouri assignment was a wash out, Phil caught up on paperwork without the distraction of a steady stream of questions and comparisons while I investigated a leak into the camper as 3-4” of rain flooded the road to our campground. Days two and four were well spent in the woods collecting data on an approximately 300-acre property to prepare a new management plan. While Phil is an active Technical Service Provider (TSP) for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), this year he was working on more MDC stewardship plans than he does NRCS CAP-106 plans. Missouri has its own healthy cost-share program for private landowners to get quality management plans, typically at no cost to the landowner, and without the encumbrance of the extensive paperwork required for NRCS programs. While MDC’s program is beneficial to the landowners, it requires consultants to bid on bundles of plans and drives prices moderately below the CAP-106 rate for an equivalent plan. The work is still viable, leads to additional management work and makes up a large portion of Phil’s workload during certain times of the year, depending on the bundles he wins and their deadlines. 

Most of the work for MDC plans is the field data collection. Generally, MDC management plans require a minimum of one BAF 10 variable radius plot for every five acres and typically Phil exceeds this requirement to attain better stand data. Plot data includes species, height, DBH and AGS/UGS for all trees >2” DBH, as well as data on snags and other relevant stand conditions. While Phil typically calls most trees to a 2” class, seeing as he had the help, my primary task in this project was running around with a diameter tape and pulling distance to borderline trees. 

On our fourth day, in addition to tallying our last 30 or so plots, we had the opportunity to meet with the very friendly, knowledgeable, and involved landowner to discuss management objectives and some parcel boundaries adjustments he wanted to make to correct old issues and simplify future management. The landowner was primarily interested in improving game species habitat while maintaining a healthy, productive forest for future generations. 

Forest management in Missouri is challenging for both landowners and consultants. Over a century of repeated high-grading has resulted in many stands of relatively low quality, over-stocked with material that needs to be removed to release desirable trees and keep 80-year rotations from turning into 140-year rotations. Combine these stand conditions with a region that has no pulpwood markets, no bio-fuel markets, and pallet mills with 10” diameter inside bark (dib)specs and you are basically left with two choices: continue the cycle of high-grading or participate in a multi-generational effort of nearly endless pre-commercial timber stand improvement (TSI). Phil has chosen the latter. To a large extent, Phil’s career, and that of most self-respecting foresters in the region, is devoted to improving mistreated stands and restoring them to a state in which they can produce high quality habitat and forest products in the future. In a way, this reality did not seem to register to Phil the way it did to me. Perhaps he is just accustomed to this reality, or perhaps he is just very stoic. Certainly, any decent forester has done their fair share of TSI, or at least recommended and/or overseen it, but few choose to center their career around fixing past mistakes to benefit those not yet born. I know many legitimate, ethical consultants who, after a week in Missouri with Phil, would salute him for his work and then proceed to an area with better markets, fewer ticks, and less chainsaw work. Perhaps as the result of spending so much time confronting the results of improper forest management, Phil has developed a level of ethical awareness around his forestry work that should serve as an example to all ACF foresters. Phil would rather -and at times has made the decision to  turn down projects that would have involved good commissions when the landowners harvest objectives were to extract maximum value without regard for the future viability of a stand. 

I truly enjoyed my time in Missouri and the opportunity to meet Phil and work with his firm. I appreciate the work he does and encourage anyone passing through the Chillicothe area to stop by and see what Blackwell Creek Forestry is all about. 

Check out this video of Dan and Phil discussing Walnut tree management!

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Colorado
5/4/2021 - 5/22/2021

As with Missouri, our Colorado experience began with some leisure time. In this case, an eleven-night stay at a campground just outside Estes Park: the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Through combination of coincidence, our route, and what I have been told is just the nature of Colorado, we experienced the most abrupt and dramatic change in scenery and climate I have ever experienced: snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park on a Wednesday to sandboarding the Great Sand Dunes in blistering heat just three days later. Geographically and culturally (based on my limited interactions, mostly with ACF foresters) I found Colorado to be a glorious state with an abundance of landscapes and recreational opportunities. 

My original plan as The Wandering Forester was primarily to work with consulting firms for about one full week, as I had the pleasure of doing with Phil in Missouri. As of the publication of this chapter, Blackwell Creek Forestry in Missouri remains my longest encounter by far with the subsequent six Wandering Forester gigs lasting no more than one full day and shifting the way this project is unfolding. This expedited schedule is primarily the result of ACF member availability, workflow, and weather. Despite the expedited nature of my encounters in Colorado, I learned a lot about many of the firms in the state and the state of forestry in general, and consulting forestry specifically, in the Centennial state. 

My first Wandering Forester assignment in Colorado was with ACF members Bjorn Dahl (Dahl Environmental Services, LLC) and Lyle Laverty (The Laverty Group, LLC). Prior to starting his consulting business, Bjorn served as the director of State and Private Forestry, Fire and Aviation Management for the Rocky Mountain Region with USDA Forest Service (USFS). Lyle also spent much of his career in the public sector, beginning with the Forest Service in California in 1965, moving up the ranks and serving in several high-level positions before transitioning to Director of Colorado State Parks and finally serving as Assistant Secretary of the Interior in G.W. Bush’s administration. Lyle could have hung up his hardhat on a storied career at this point, but instead founded his own consulting business. Bjorn and Lyle’s businesses are distinct; however, they are close friends that both operate out of Denver and occasionally work together. I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of working with both on a single project, an opportunity I nearly missed due to deep snowpack lingering around some of their active job sites. 

Bjorn’s client had recently built a house in a rural area of Jefferson County, in the mountains west of Denver. Jefferson County (along with many others) require landowners building within the Wildland Urban Interface to create three zones of defensible space around dwellings and treat (typically mulch) hazardous fuels to improve access for firefighters and reduce the risk of destruction when a fire occurs. Counties require this work be done by a professional with wildland fire experience and certain credentials, creating a decent niche for consultants like Bjorn and Lyle with their extensive backgrounds in wildland fire. The worksite had been treated in the past and we were marking trees to be removed (mulched) in a follow-up treatment as required by the County and desired by the landowner. Some areas were straight forward, and with brief instruction, I was sent off to mark the few scattered, obviously dead or declining, trees in heavily thinned areas. Thicker, previously untreated areas and riparian areas required more thought as they were to be marked to create a specific amount of canopy separation, while shifting the species composition in a direction that was desirable to the landowner. 

After my time with Bjorn and Lyle, we towed the trailer down to Durango in the Southwest Corner of Colorado and set up at Junction Creek Campground in the San Juan National Forest - shoutout to the management of the San Juan as this was one of the nicest, cleanest, and most beautiful places we have camped to date. Durango was the base of operations for my next two Wandering Forester encounters: Bruce Short, ACF (Short Forestry, LLC.) and the unforgettable Joe Reddan, ACF (Flexillis Forestry, LLC.). 

I was originally hoping to spend the better part of a week working with Joe, however the project we were to work on was not yet under contract. Additionally, Joe was required to leave town on short notice just prior to my arrival so he put me in contact with Bruce who was gracious enough to have me along on a project in La Plata County, a little west of Durango. A North Carolina State University graduate, Bruce (like the rest of my Colorado hosts) spent most of his career with USFS and started his own consulting business upon retiring from his public service. 

Bruce’s client on this day was a landowner with a 40-acre property dominated by large Ponderosa Pine. The family lives on the property and have several additional structures near the house, as well as a long driveway through their woods. Due to the age of the timber, and the severe, prolonged drought in the area, Bruce’s client was losing a few trees every year to beetles. This decline was an annoyance back in the woods but a safety concern and economic matter near the property’s infrastructure. To mitigate the risk of beetle kill, the client has worked with Bruce for the last few years to install Verbenone tabs on trees around structures and along the driveway. Verbenone is a pheromone that is released by many species of bark beetle once a tree is heavily infested and there is no room for additional beetles, Verbenone essentially tells bark beetles “can’t sit here,” so the beetles continue to fly until they are outside of the treatment area or exhaust their fat supplies and fall to the ground. When applied correctly, the treatment can be effective for three-four months, and when timed properly to overlap with active beetle season, provide a season’s protection. However, due to the relatively high treatment cost, and poor timber markets, this is not a common treatment in production forestry situations and is most often applied in urban or recreational areas where trees may have high non-timber value or expensive removal cost should they become infested and killed by beetles. 

Upon his return, my final meetup in Colorado was with Joe Reddan. As with all the consultants I met in Colorado, Joe had spent most of his career with USFS and started consulting in his “retirement.” While the large inventory project with which I’d hoped to help Joe did not materialize in time, he excitedly drove me all around the Durango area for the better part of a day and we continuously talked about nearly every topic imaginable, mostly forestry related but certainly not entirely. I don’t think there was more than about five seconds of silence the entire day and by the end of the day I found my voice to be fading. I learned a lot from Joe and was particularly enthralled by how consulting foresters manage to maintain a business in such a challenging environment.   

This project was originally, and still is, intended to be a chronicle of one forester’s interpretation of the state of consulting forestry across the US, comparing the ways different firms operate and how the profession differs in various regions, while providing entertainment for others and serving as a journal for personal reflection. It was never my intention to stray into the political or controversial; however, after what I observed across Colorado, I feel obligated as a forester to straddle this line to try and shed just a little additional light on the current situation in Colorado.

Based on my experience working in eastern Virginia, and countless conversations with other consultants across the southeast, I believe it is fair to say that most consultants in the southeast generate most of their work and revenue from timber sales. While the services related to those sales (before, during and after) vary from firm to firm, I have never met a consulting forester in the southeast who would not say “selling timber is a big part of my business” - if you are out there, I would love to talk to you. This is my reference point. 

Until a few months ago, I would have struggled to speculate how a consulting firm would stay viable without healthy markets to provide wood to. In Missouri, I considered the markets to be poor and was impressed with Phil’s creativity to have built a successful consulting firm where less than half of his revenue comes from timber sales. In Colorado, commercial timber harvests are rare and with no pulp markets and sawtimber stumpage prices in the $10-$15/MBF range, selling timber is not a viable business model for a consultant. Unfortunately, Colorado landowners also suffer, and in many cases, forestland ownership can be more of an economic burden than asset for private landowners.

Of the six ACF members in Colorado, I visited four (apologies to Linda and Sharon) and a clear theme emerged: writing management plans is sort of the ballgame for consultants in Colorado. As with many states, Colorado offers tax incentives for landowners who have professionally prepared forest management plans – most states also require implementation. With a clear financial incentive for landowners to have plans prepared, and state and federal cost-share opportunities, there is a market for consultants to write high quality forest management plans and, as stated above, this is a big part of the business model for every consultant I met in the state. While this may not be a dream opportunity that will cause a goldrush of consultants to Colorado, combined with wildfire risk mitigation and a few other sources of work, it is enough to keep a few small firms afloat. I believe it is fair to say that for Colorado ACF members, management plan preparation is a vital component of their business. 

Somewhat inexplicably, this primary source of work (writing management plans) is being threatened from a seemingly unlikely source: The American Forest Foundation (AFF). AFF is generally a strong partner with the consulting forestry community. We share many common objectives, we serve as Tree Farm volunteer inspectors, certify our own land and encourage many of our landowners to certify theirs, work together on policy goals and in many ways share the same core goal of empowering private landowners to better achieve their objectives through sound, sustainable forest management. In my eyes, AFF is one of the “good guys” and while we have different roles, we’re on the same team. I believe this is a view shared by most ACF foresters. My long-held respect, admiration, and support of AFF left me somewhat dumbstruck to learn about the current conflict between AFF and Colorado consultants. I am certainly not the best person to fully explain the current situation, but I will do my best to summarize it. 

In 2018, AFF entered into a $4.6 million dollar grant with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), under the premise that there is an insufficient supply of professional foresters to service private landowners in Colorado. In response to this perceived shortage, AFF hired the Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) to launch a program to assist southwest Colorado private landowners with management plan preparation, at no cost to the landowner. To achieve this, SCC hired a forester and began working with ecology students from across the country who come to Colorado to work for SCC and write management plans as part of an internship program. 

Where this has created a conflict for private consultants is that now they have to compete with AFF/SCC for one of their core services, and AFF is offering that service for free. As you can imagine, many landowners would rather get a free plan than pay for one. What confuses the consultants of Colorado is how this initiative achieves the goal of increasing forester capacity in the state – if AFF/SCC writes 50 more plans, and private consultants write 50 less, how is capacity increased? Additionally, are these plans (in some cases prepared by students) going to be of equal quality of those prepared by consultants like Bjorn, Lyle, Bruce, and Joe, who each have decades of professional experience in the region? As of this writing, AFF has not provided a clear justification of their thought process regarding these issues, and it is causing considerable concern for some of the consultants who feel their businesses are being threatened by a long-time partner. 

Perhaps AFF and NRCS could have better achieved their objective by starting with the qualified, professional, established private consultants of Colorado and seeing what challenges and opportunities they saw, and perhaps partnering with them to achieve their goals. 

Interestingly, Joe reports that the AFF/SCC effort to provide free forest management plans did not yield any clients for the AFF/SCC forester. On the contrary, ACF consultants in SW Colorado all have clients in the summer of 2021. Given this, Bruce and Joe offered their assistance and agreed to co-host a Forestry Field Day/Seminar on September 11, 2021.  AFF/SCC agreed that the ACF consultants would be able to sign and keep clients that they recruit at the seminar, with acknowledgement to AFF/SCC. At the time of this writing, in advance of September 11, there is optimism for obtaining clients and an improved relationship with the SCC forester. 

From what I saw in Colorado, there is not a shortage of foresters, there is a shortage of forestry. As we foresters like to say: “no markets, no management.” The limited time I had in Colorado seemed to highlight the result of decades without healthy industry. Overstocked stands of often over-mature timber lead to significantly more material being lost to insects, disease and fire than utilized for sustainable forest products. It was sad to see such a beautiful state and such an extensive resource being squandered, often at the expense of the landowner. 

Perhaps there is a brighter future for the private forests and foresters of Colorado. A few mills have opened in the last few years and as bad as things seemed to me, I’m told they are an improvement. Hopefully the numerous stakeholders interested in healthy and sustainable forestry will come together and start to realize the potential of the resources of this state in a responsible way. 

Check out this video from Dan's time in Colorado!

 

 

 

Chapter 4

Idaho
7/20/2021 - 7/26/2021

Despite the frankly depressing situation I had observed in Colorado, Joe had made sure to send me off in style with a dinner party: good food, good foresters, and a redundant selection of strong beer. From southwest Colorado, after a brief stop outside Flagstaff Arizona, our route took us generally north through Utah, Southern Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. Beautiful country, but an ACF dead-zone and no place for a Wandering Forester. By Montana, I was desperate enough to attempt an out of network assignment with one of those pesky, non-ACF consultants. I had made contact, and everything appeared good to go for a couple of days in the woods. Upon arrival, I was met with radio silence. I would have to wait to get my fix.

By the morning of July 20th, it had been 61 days since my last Wandering Forester assignment with Joe in Colorado. While I had found Phil’s work in Missouri to be noble and significant, the forest products industry in Missouri was unimpressive compared to my baseline of coastal Virginia, and things had only gotten worse since leaving Missouri. Log trucks had been a rare sight and I found myself longing for the smell of freshly cut lumber or the hum of a distant feller’s hot saw. Hell, after 61 days, I would have even settled for the earthy stink of freshly rutted skid-trail baking in the sun. On July 20th, my commute from Cheney, Washington to Sandpoint Idaho took me north along Idaho State Highway 95 and past the Idaho Forest Group’s (IFG) mill in Chilco, Idaho. While IFG’s Chilco mill is mid-sized at best, with an annual lumber production capacity of about 100 MMBF, it was a sight for sore eyes and the familiar smell lofting through my window was refreshing. 

My first connection in Idaho was with Mike Wolcott, ACF, CF, the co-founder and current president of Inland Forest Management (IFM), headquartered in Sandpoint, Idaho. IFM is a relatively large firm, currently understaffed with six full-time foresters and an office manager. IFM additionally employs a significant number of seasonal workers, to assist with numerous projects and to staff four of the eight wildland firefighting engines owned by the firm. Prior to founding IFM, Mike worked for the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) in Klamath Falls, Oregon. After five years with ODF, on a fateful trip to the dump with fellow ODF forester Dick Bradetich, IFM was imagined. In 1984, Mike and Dick left ODF and returned to Dick’s hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho and began building IFM. The first several years were challenging for IFM and Mike acknowledged that there were times early on when he and his partner were unsure about the future of their firm. Around 1990, IFM purchased equipment and began incorporating wildland firefighting into their business model, a decision that may have saved the firm. The consistent seasonal work provided by wildland firefighting gave IFM the time it needed to really establish itself and grow into what it is today: a premier consulting firm servicing northern Idaho, eastern Washington, and western Montana. 

The strong, early start to the 2021 fire season in Idaho saw all eight of IFM’s engines deployed by July, and only a skeleton crew remained in Sandpoint when I arrived. For better or worse, my new model as the Wandering Forester seems to be day tours and my visit with Mike was no exception; although I must give Mike credit for packing as much information and adventure as possible into the visit and extending the day beyond working hours, giving Heather and I a private boat tour of Lake Pend Oreille before a waterfront dinner and resumption of my forestry interrogation. Most of the day was spent on the road, driving north from Sandpoint to within 3 miles of the Canadian border to meet with a client and inspect an active timber harvest. 

During my conversations with Mike, a clear difference became apparent as to the way consulting foresters operate in the west compared to the east. During my time in eastern Virginia, I sold stumpage. While we were aware of delivered prices, and constantly working with procurement foresters, loggers, and log dealers to ensure our client’s wood was being merchandized efficiently, at the end of the day we sold timber on the stump. Although I can only speak for my experience, I believe it to be a generally accurate statement that consulting foresters in the east sell primarily stumpage. In Missouri, this “eastern model” was still the norm. After visiting about half a dozen ACF firms west of the Rockies, the eastern model generally does not hold up. To date, in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, consultants whom I have met generally sell delivered logs with stumpage sales being far less common. Rather than bidding tracts of timber out for lump-sum or per-unit prices standing, as I am used to, firms in the west mostly bid or negotiate tracts to loggers for cut and haul rates. The western model adds the task of marketing logs and fiber to the consultants’ plates, so they must constantly monitor and negotiate delivered prices, deal with quota issues, manage mill payments and more. 

The western model presents some ethical considerations that I did not have to deal with in Virginia. In one way or another, mills across the country incentivize those who control the delivery of forest products to bring said products to their mill rather than their competitors, e.g., “bring me 10,000 tons this year and I’ll give you $10,000 at the end of the year”. Fair enough. I imagine something similar occurs in most other sectors and there is no inherent ethical issue with this arrangement. In the east, these “bonuses” are generally paid to the loggers and wood dealers who hold the supply contracts with various buyers. As consultants, we never really had to worry about it; if my logger got a bonus, good for them. It was likely considered when they calculated stumpage rates. For ACF members in the west, there can be an issue. If my ACF firm supplies 10,000 tons to mill “X” and receives a $10,000 check at the end of the year, I have something to think about. As an ACF firm, what are my options? ACF’s code of ethics clearly prohibits accepting compensation of any kind from anyone besides the client for the same service without a signed disclosure. In my estimation, ACF members have only three clear options in this situation: 1 – refuse the bonus, 2 – Distribute it amongst the clients whose wood went to the mill, or 3 – Have every client whose wood went to mill “X” sign a disclosure acknowledging the “bonus” was received by the consultant and build it into your fee structure. Option one is not perfect. While refusing the bonus would satisfy the section of ACF’s code of ethics related to receiving compensation from someone other than a client, it may not satisfy the fiduciary obligation an ACF forester has to their clients. If someone is offering money for a client’s wood and that money could reasonably be delivered to that client, is it not in the client’s best interest to take the money? Maybe if the purchaser was instructed to design future bids without such a bonus option one would better achieve ACF’s high ethical standards? Options two and three seem to work, but they create additional work. Both options two and three require the consultant to maintain and search records for every harvest within a bonus period. Further, option two requires accurate records of volumes delivered to each mill from each client. 

For Mike and IFM, option two was the clear choice. Seeing as IFM implements strict chain of custody protocol for their client’s wood, with transparent documentation of every load, ton, MBF, and dollar, the necessary information is there. Despite IFM’s meticulous recordkeeping, the task is still a chore. Someone must query records, calculate percentages, write checks, and occasionally explain to confused landowners why they received $87.50 almost a year after their harvest was completed. Mike admitted “it’s a pain in the ass when they do this,” but it’s just part of the job in this part of the country. On the nearly two-hour drive to the job site, Mike’s and my ethical conversation meandered around various aspects of consulting forestry, some that I had not previously analyzed from an ethical perspective. Mike mentioned a situation where managing properties for adjacent landowners became a potential conflict of interest when a boundary line was discovered to have been recorded inconsistently. This is not an issue I have had to deal with, but it was healthy to discuss. For me, it has sometimes been a relief to work with adjacent landowners; small projects can gain the scale needed to be economical, access can be simplified, exact location of certain boundaries may become less important, etc. I have often encouraged a practice that could have become ethically problematic because it appeared easier and better for the clients at the beginning. Is it unethical to manage adjacent properties? I imagine most readers would say no, and I put myself in that camp. Is it helpful to periodically have these conversations with our peers and at professional meetings and events? Absolutely. Without exercise, these ethical instincts can atrophy and over time these important standards can erode beyond recognition. 

After a healthy drive, and stimulating conversations, Mike and I arrived at the logging operation and set about to rounding up the landowner and logger. It was approaching 1:00pm and with Idaho on level 2 hoot-owl restrictions, we chatted with the landowner first allowing the logger to get one more drag to the deck before he had to stop working in the woods and begin a three-hour fire watch. We discussed pertinent mill conditions, strategized on where to take various products, measured some log piles, assured the landowner that with all felling completed, fire danger was minimized, assured the logger that the state wasn’t going to shut down all logging that week, and walked the woods. It seemed like a typical harvest inspection at this time and in this part of the world. 

My second assignment in Idaho was with Dennis Parent. An early (1970) State University of New York (SUNY) Syracuse Forestry graduate, Dennis bounced around for few years after graduating, working as a consultant for a summer, then as a graduate assistant at Utah State University in Logan and five years with The Pack River Lumber Company before finding his way through the door of Inland Empire Paper (IEP) where he would spend the bulk of his career. Dennis started out as the Inventory Forester for IEP, however they soon found other roles for him and over his 37 years with the company, Dennis was involved in just about every aspect of their operations including managing the Forestry Department of 11 people. IEP is one of the few mills left in the Inland Northwest that has maintained ownership of significant fee lands. With over 100,000 acres of fee land, much of Dennis’s energy was spent on the management of this land. 

In June 2014, Dennis retired from IEP. While, at 73 years young, Dennis shares the common tendency of foresters to remain in the woods beyond a typical retirement age, his motivations are somewhat different. Generally, when asked, “seasoned” foresters typically say they stay in the woods because they enjoy it, and while Dennis certainly enjoys his time in the woods, his response was more civic than selfish. When asked, Dennis said his primary motivation for continuing to do what he does at this point is because he feels a sense of obligation and desire to use the skills he has acquired over his 49 years of professional forestry experience for as long as possible, helping individual landowners meet their forestry goals. Despite his determination, time is a cruel mistress and Dennis is aware that his days are limited climbing over brush, up and down the steep slopes around northern Idaho and northeastern Washington. Thankfully for Dennis, when that day comes, he will have the legacy of an extensive career to look back on and the impacts of his work will outlive us all. 

Thankfully for me, as of July 26th, 2021, Dennis was still in the woods and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours climbing over brush and slinging a diameter tape with him. On this day, Dennis was working for a client who was interested in purchasing about 20 acres of land in eastern Washington. The client needed an appraisal, and additionally we kept a separate tally of the trees Dennis recommended removing in a thinning. The stand was somewhat sparse, dominated by Douglas-fir, grand fir, western larch, and ponderosa pine with heavy volumes of western redcedar along a stream and generally out of reach under Washington SMZ harvesting requirements. Despite scattered root rot in the Douglas-fir, and relatively low stocking, the trees were tall, and I was surprised to learn the stand was holding nearly 11 MBF/acre, much better than it appeared to my eye but a far cry from the volumes I would soon see as I approached the Pacific Coast.  Stay tuned for more on that in the next Chapter!

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Mason, Bruce & Girard: Scio, Oregon
8/31/2021

No self-respecting Wandering Forester’s travels through the Pacific Northwest would be complete without visiting at least one Mason, Bruce & Girard (MB&G) office, an opportunity MB&G president Roger Lord made sure not to deny me. Celebrating the centennial anniversary of their founding this year, and employing approximately 100 full time team members, MB&G is one of the oldest and largest consulting forestry firms in the country, headquartered in Portland, Oregon with offices in Oregon, California, Colorado, and Virginia. In addition to forestry services, MB&G has incorporated environmental, geospatial, and software aspects to their business. In fact, one of my last projects back in Virginia was working on a transition from Windows Mobile based inventory software (T-cruise, RTI and SoloForest) to MB&G’s Android based Mobile Map and Inventory Manager solution. While I unfortunately did not have the opportunity to see the implementation of MB&G’s solution at Three Rivers Forestry, reports from Virginia are overwhelmingly positive and MB&G’s software package appears poised to become the gold standard of next generation inventory software as Windows Mobile approaches the inevitable end of its life cycle. 

My encounter with MB&G was not an accurate representation of the firm’s core business model; It was however the single most unique and interesting experience I have had thus far on this journey. MB&G is one of the largest firms in the country, and I visited their smallest office.  MB&G’s Jordan, Oregon office is staffed by two foresters and manages a single, contiguous property for a single client, a multi-generational family forest. The team and property are one of a kind and should be a bucket list destination for anyone interested in silviculture or sustainable forestry in the Pacific Northwest. Upon arrival at the office, I was greeted by the entire Jordan MB&G team: Pete (human), Edie (human), Doc (canine), and Luna (canine). I was presented with a written history of the property, overview of volumes, growth and yield, stocking, age-class distribution, silvicultural program, objectives, and an entire table of photo albums going back to 1958 when MB&G became involved with the property. 

With the support of MB&G’s significant infrastructure, Pete and Edie implement their client’s objectives on a 12,500-acre property in Linn County Oregon, a task MB&G has faithfully preformed for 63 years. 

The Family Forest dates to 1902 when the first-generation owners began purchasing land in the area, mostly from original homesteaders, a quarter section at a time. A notable 15,570-acre purchase from the Oregon and California Railroad in 1908 nearly tripled the holding with a single acquisition. From 1915 to 1942, the Family Forest was little changed, small parcels were sold and acquired, and modest harvests took place. It took the second world war to precipitate the first drastic change to the property in nearly thirty years. 

My generation will (hopefully) never fully comprehend the sheer scale of the war effort in the early 1940s. No sector nor family was unimpacted, no sacrifice was too great, and nothing was off limits. This was the war to end all wars and defeat was not an option; it was all hands on deck. The prime example of this is the US automobile industry which was rapidly re-tooled and expanded to produce the staggering quantity of military equipment needed to win the war. (An interesting side note – in these time of great division in our country, it is almost strange to think of a time that our entire country was unified and solely focused on a single objective.) While the auto factories in Detroit may get the most recognition, forestry had a role to play in wartime production. Most notably from the west, old growth noble fir and Douglas-fir were needed for aircraft production (noble) and ship decking (Douglas). Additionally, forest products were used to replace other materials like metal and plastics that were needed for the war effort. Timber cruisers were dispatched across the west on both public and private land to find suitable stands, and the Family Forest’s abundant old growth was identified. All told from 1942-1943, approximately 77MMBF of timber was harvested from the Family Forest under order from the federal government. 

With the war won, the 1950s was a period of fragmentation and ownership consolidation for the Family Forest. By 1956, Simpson Timber Company had acquired the entirety of the former partner’s interests. The Family interests had starkly different objectives and management direction than their new, unintended partner and a partition of the property was imminent. One of the referees in the partition was David T. Mason, the “M” in MB&G. David fought hard and wisely to ensure the Family was left with a favorable section of the property, negotiating for a high percentage of gentle north slopes; highly productive sites undervalued in hindsight by Simpson for its abundance of western hemlock timber. Considered worthless at the time, this western hemlock resource paid dividends to the Family interests over time as markets for the species improved significantly. In part for David’s service to the family during the partition, in 1958 MB&G was contracted to manage the Family Forest and the property entered what I will call its “modern era.” 

Throughout the modern era, the Family Forest’s management direction has been far-sighted, perhaps in part because of the properties storied (and at times tumultuous history). Some near-term profits were and are sacrificed in favor of long-term value creation and a focus on leaving the property in the best condition possible to be a productive, valuable, sustainable resource for future generations. I do not go out on a limb making this statement, it is written right into the Family Forest’s Vision Statement and Management Goal: 

Vision Statement: “To be recognized as a sustainable, income producing, Family Forest.”

Management Goal: “To produce the highest value and potential income over the long term.”

Mason, Bruce and Girard took over the ownership of the Family Forest in 1958, By the early 1960s, little timber had been harvested since the wartime harvests and much of the timber on the Family Forest was old growth: 350-600 years old. One of the risks associated with maintaining such a large amount of timber in a late-successional state is the risk of catastrophic disaster. After all, timber value is not realized until someone pays you for it. On October 12th, 1962 the Family Forest paid a price for their far sighted vision when Typhoon Freda struck the Pacific Northwest coast and the coast of Canada. “The Columbus Day Windstorm,” as it would come to be called, brought sustained winds of up to 115MPH and gusts as high as 170MPH. It remains one of the strongest wind events ever recorded in the region. Approximately 20% of the Family Forest’s old growth timber was put on the ground. The impacts of the storm were far reaching and caused a flood of salvage harvesting that depressed local log markets. The salvage operation on the Family Forest required building mainline roads first, took nearly a decade and altered the characteristics of the property forever. Still, significant volume was unrecoverable. The Columbus Day Windstorm had one silver lining for the Family Forest: they now had a brand. With significant volumes of their old growth timber hitting the market for the first time, mills noticed the exceptional quality of the wood and the forest began to build a reputation that stands to this day. 

The Columbus Day Windstorm was a sort of progeny event for much of the current Family Forest. Many stands were damaged to the point of needing reforestation, and the edges of the initial wind destroyed swaths were not windfirm, so successive blowdowns occurred over the next decade.  After salvage operations in the 1960s and much of the remaining old growth was harvested during favorable markets since. Currently, four stands of old growth totaling about 200 acres remains on the property, set aside for legacy, habitat, and recreation. The remaining 12,300 acres is managed for long-term timber production on an 80-year minimum rotation.  Currently they are cutting about half of the volume they grow annually.  The basic silvicultural regime on the property looks something like this: 

Year 1: Plant, 500 TPA. Manually spot spray invasives and hardwood sprouts.
Year 25-30: Commercially cut-to-length thin or PCT depending on size and markets. 
Year 45: Commercial thin:
Year 60: Pole thinning*
Year 70: Pole thinning*
Year 80: Final harvest. 

*Due to the property’s highly productive soils, seedling selection and long rotation length, the Family Forest produces a well above average number of large 60-100+’ distribution poles that command a premium price and are not produced in the “typical” 40-year rotation. While every landowner and every stand are different, 40 years seems to be the most common rotation length I have observed thus far in the Pacific Northwest region. 

To me, the Family Forest’s wholehearted commitment to this 80-year rotation is a large part of what makes the property so fascinating. The silvicultural prescriptions are unique and the owners’ motivations well intentioned. Interestingly, while 80 years was not the optimal economic solution when applying a high discount rate, in the case of the Family Forest, MB&G’s analysis showed it to yield an additional 70% total timber volume compared to two 40-year rotations. When using a lower, but still reasonable discount rate that takes intergenerational equity into account, the net present value of an acre comes out higher with an 80-year rotation than two 40-year rotations. 

For economically focused landowners, rotation length is selected to maximize rate of return, this is what drives industrial forest management and leads foresters to continuously look for ways to reach economic maturity as fast as possible. Relative to many other investments, even a very short rotation is a long-term investment. The objective is not to grow as much timber as possible, rather to make as much money as possible as fast as possible. I do not believe there is anything wrong or immoral with this reality. When stakeholders instruct managers to maximize rate of return, there is a correct rotation length based on the discount rate and assumptions used. The higher the discount rate, the shorter the economically optimal rotation. My only gripe with short rotations is purely selfish: it’s kind of boring. I enjoy applying a variety of treatments and seeing a variety of results. That’s what makes forestry fun – we can change stand conditions in an infinite number of ways. When you reduce or eliminate intermediate treatments like thinning, your work diversity decreases: cut, plant, cut, plant, cut, plant.

Any time someone is doing something different, it is interesting, and that is why I likely appeared starry-eyed on the Family Forest; They were doing something unique, growing big trees, holding impressive volumes, and achieving their objectives. That said, Pete and Edie may have sold me on their 80-year Douglas-fir rotation, certainly for achieving their client’s current objectives while practicing entertaining forestry. The Family interests have values and objectives beyond short-term returns that are well achieved by their longer than typical rotations: diverse habitat is maintained, carbon storage capacity is drastically increased, net volume production is optimized, recreational opportunities (which they offer to the public at no cost) are enhanced, and much more. They seem to have struck a balance that works for them, and their foresters are clearly passionate about the property.

As with any management decision, reward is balanced with risk, and the Family Forest is exposed to some additional risk because of their conscious decision to maintain a heavily stocked, contiguous forest in the western United States in 2021. We all know wildland fire has been a serious risk for western forest owners for as long western forests have had owners. Fire is a natural component of the region, however, fuel accumulation from a lack of frequent, low intensity fires, and the region’s prolonged and severe drought have created conditions that pose an increasingly serious threat. As with the Columbus Day Windstorm, the more you have to lose, the more you can lose when a disaster occurs. For all its beauty and diversity of values, the Family Forest is 12,500 acres of fuel. However, larger Douglas-fir with thicker bark that are well spaced due to successive thinnings, should be more resilient to fire than to younger, denser plantations – provided that the fire behavior is not like the extreme east-wind driven fires that the region saw on Labor Day in 2020.  I know the owners and managers are aware of this risk and I imagine it weighs heavy on their minds during summer droughts and a collective sigh of relief is released at the end of each fire season. Standing on a ridge overlooking the Family Forest, Edie and I discussed this risk and the ways in which they are working to mitigate the changes of a catastrophic wildfire. From our perch, Edie and I surveyed the damage caused by the Beachie Creek Fire 2020 which had burned significant acreage of Weyerhaeuser land just miles from the Family Forest. As we stood there, we could also see the smoke plume from the Bull Complex Fire actively burning in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness. Edie described to me one way she was hoping to build some fire protection into the property by conducting heavy thinning and fuel treatments adjacent to existing woods roads to create a shaded fuel break that could potentially be used to stop a future fire from spreading through the entire property. 

At best, the Family Forest is the model for the way forests should be managed in this region. At worst, it is a playground for anyone interested in silviculture and sustainable forestry; an experimental forest whose old growth stands, and long rotation working forests provide a glimpse into the past and allow us to see the impressive potential these species have, should we find value in allowing them to reach it. Pete and Edie are largely out of sight in their small office in Jordan, Oregon, but they were excited and eager to show me the little garden they preside over, and I imagine they would be equally excited to show you, should you ever find yourself in their neck of the woods. 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

Washington
8/18/2021 - 8/24/2021

While we had been camping in eastern Washington (about 20 miles west of Spokane) for some time, as a base of operations for my Idaho assignments, The Olympic Peninsula was a symbolic milestone of sorts. Not only had we reached the furthest point in the continental US from where we started, and swam in the Pacific Ocean, we were truly in the Pacific Northwest. The PNW was a much-anticipated part of our trip both in terms of forestry and recreation/exploration. While the Olympic Peninsula did not disappoint, it turned out to be far and away the most difficult area we traveled to in terms of finding accommodations. Due to a combination perseverance and dumb luck, while we did not have to resort to camping in department store parking lots, we came quite close on multiple occasions and spent an undesirably significant amount of our time procuring accommodations for our trailer. 

My first ACF encounter in Washington was with one of ACF’s newest candidate members, David Edwards, the founder and sole employee of Flying Beaver Forestry, LLC on Whidbey Island. David graduated from the Forestry program at Oregon State University in 1991. While he had worked four summers as a field forester for an industrial timber company while at OSU, David’s forestry career took a nearly three-decade pause as he was commissioned in the US Air Force shortly after graduation. From 1993-2005 David was an active-duty Air Force pilot, mostly flying cargo aircraft around the globe. In 2005, he left the Air Force and spent five years in wildland aerial firefighting, first as the Fixed-Wing Specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry, and later as operations manager, safety manager, and waterscooper pilot for an aerial firefighting contractor. After his stent in aerial firefighting, David returned to the Air Force in 2010 and served until 2018. After leaving the Air Force (for the second time) David began flying commercial airliners for a major airline, a job he continues to this day. During the early days of the COVID pandemic, with air travel seriously curtailed, David had some time to reflect on his careers and ponder his desire to stay in the sky. With newfound free time on his hands David rediscovered forestry and began to re-immerse himself in the profession, reading scientific journals, attending virtual events, and catching up on 30 years of science and policy evolution. It didn’t take long for him to decide that he wanted to spend more time in the woods and working with the resource he had studied decades ago. So, in 2020, Flying Beaver Forestry, LLC. was formed. 

For a highly intelligent and capable individual, David’s decision to start a consulting forestry business does not seem to fit. Not that consulting forestry can’t be a fun and rewarding occupation, but the location he chose for the venture has to be one of the most challenging environments in the country (perhaps second only to Colorado). David started his forestry business in his current home of Whidbey Island, WA. Whidbey Island presents numerous challenges that would quickly dissuade most consultants from considering operations there. The first problem is there are no sawmills on the island, and only one bridge. The only bridge to Whidbey Island is located at the northern tip of the Island, and most of the timberland is on the south end of the island. All forest products face long, costly hauls or ferry trips to market. In fact, my commute to Whidbey Island was a 30-minute ferry ride from Port Townsend. The second problem with Whidbey Island is the land itself. While many sites are highly productive, the land is heavily fragmented and most parcels are small, increasing the complexity of forest management and decreasing profitability for a traditional (timber sale focused) consulting forestry business model. The third challenge David faces is cultural, and two-fold. The first cultural piece is that there is no established consulting forestry industry on the island. In Missouri, Phil had described a challenge growing a consulting firm when landowners were used to working with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) for all forestry needs (including timber sale administration). The dynamic is the same on Whidbey Island, just substitute “MDC” with “loggers.” Most active forest landowners on the island know a couple of the few loggers who work on the island and the culture is for landowners to work directly with loggers or timber buyers. David must demonstrate value and educate the public on the value a good consultant can add to their property, in an area where the first perception is that this is an un-needed middleman who will just cut into their bottom line. In addition to some reluctance to using a consultant, there is a general disapproval of active forest management in much of the population. Like much of the west, Whidbey was exploitatively harvested by early settlers and landowners and managers are still dealing with negative perceptions of many silvicultural practices. There is also a “not in my backyard” mentality in some retirees who pay a high cost to retire on the island and don’t want to see harvests they consider unattractive. 

Maybe David is crazy, or maybe he is a hero. Only time will tell. So far David’s business is nearly solely focused on management plan preparation as he fights an uphill battle trying to establish a full-service consulting firm in the face of many challenges. As pessimistic as my assessment may sound, David is passionate, energetic, and perhaps the most capable person to carry out this difficult task. The first half of my day on the Island was spent walking a property with David and his client discussing management options and collecting data for a management plan David was working on. After lunch I was treated to a forestry-centered, guided tour of the area and lengthy conversation about forestry, the island, and David’s background. For someone so long removed, and recently reengaged in forestry, David’s technical knowledge was impressive and the knowledge of technology and attention to detail he developed as a pilot is clearly at the center of his forestry business. From advanced use of drones for reconnaissance and mapping to technical application of the most recent forestry science, Flying Beaver Forestry, LLC would be formidable anywhere and hopefully has a bright future in one of the most challenging environments I have witnessed. 

After spending the day with one of ACF’s newest members, it was only fitting to visit one of its most seasoned. At 82 years young (and still in the woods) Michael Jackson of Professional Forestry Services, inc. in Tumwater Washington is one of the most experienced foresters in the country and has been a proud ACF member since 1974. Mike took me to two logging operations he is overseeing and introduced me to western species silviculture. Anyone with a cursory understanding of forestry or forest products knows that loblolly pine is the king of softwoods in the east and Douglas-fir is king in the west. But what do the rotations look like? What sort of volume per acre is possible under different management regimes? These were nagging questions in my mind, and I was excited to start exploring them with someone like Mike, who has spent his career managing this resource. Unsurprisingly, the answer to these questions is “it depends.. However, a few trends were revealed that I found interesting. 

With the notable exception of pulpwood, which is essentially a negative value biproduct of many harvests, delivered prices for chip and saw and saw logs are much higher than the prices I am familiar with for loblolly pine in eastern Virginia; two to three times higher. Even with higher cut and haul rates, the stumpage prices for most products in western Washington was quite impressive to me. Over the course of my nine years in Virginia, I was involved in a few hundred distinct timber sales and my stumpage record was in the neighborhood of $7,000/acre, about half that of a decent sale in western Washington and pitiful compared to Mike’s personal record of $34,000/acre. It is quite interesting to me that even common grades of certain species used for structural lumber can have vastly different market prices in different regions at a given time. I have often heard that regions of the southeast including Virginia sort of shot themselves in the foot by growing too much pine sawtimber of the last several decades, but the extent of market suppression caused by this fact was still surprising. 

The economics of pulpwood in western Washington was also interesting. Currently, delivered prices are well below the average cut and haul rate so pulpwood is essentially sold at a loss to the landowner. This can be challenging to explain to landowners who logically would rather leave a product on the ground than have it hauled to market at a loss. Whether the pulpwood is hauled or not, it needs to be felled and handled by the logger to achieve certain silvicultural objectives and this work is not done for free. Additionally, residual debris can be a fire hazard in regions prone to extreme fire behavior in recent years and treating the debris (piling and burning or mulching) would also represent a cost to the landowner. So, the pulpwood is hauled to pulp mills in most cases. Despite this fact, and several other factors that make forest management in this region more expensive (on a per acre basis) than I am used to, sawtimber prices more than make up for it and growing trees is a profitable business for many folks. 

Seedling cost is an order of magnitude higher here than I am used to. In Virginia, market price for a basic (third cycle, open pollinated, elite) was $60-$80/thousand, and about the most expensive seedlings available (containerized MCPs) were in only around $300/thousand. I was shocked to learn that Douglas-fir, western hemlock and western red cedar seedlings typically cost close to $600/thousand. This price difference in in large a result of the fact that most seedlings are grown for two years in the nursery, whereas loblolly pine seedlings (for forestry) are exclusively one year old (as far as I know). Seedling cost alone could be nearly double that, which we would advise Virginia landowners to budget for total reforestation cost without cost-share, which usually covered a considerable percentage. While planting density is generally only slightly lower than is typical for loblolly in the east, site-preparation is somewhat different. For one thing, broadcast site-prep burning doesn’t happen here. Piling and burning is commonly applied to remove hazardous fuels and create planting space, but the objective is not to control natural vegetation. When vegetation control is needed as part of the site-preparation process, aerial or ground based herbicide applications are typically used. (Generally this is also the case in the southeast, the main distinction is that prescribed burning is in the site-prep toolbox in the east, despite many managers’ arguable underutilization of it in certain regions in recent years.) While not unheard of, “spot planting” (planting without any site-prep) was rarely a good recommendation in Virginia, as most stands would become extremely over-stocked with natural regeneration that would cause serious issues for spot planted trees. In western Washington - and much of Oregon I would come to find out, natural regeneration can be a good thing. If someone ends up with 150 TPA of naturals of desirable species, they just drop the planting density and grow a hybrid naturally/artificially regenerated stand. The problem in Virginia was that we would more often get 10,000 TPA of naturals than 150. 

The rotations Mike and I discussed were shorter and more familiar than I expected. Industrial landowners like Weyerhaeuser striving for ever shorter rotations with 40 years and one thinning currently being typical in this area with rumors of pursuing 30-year, no-thinning rotations. Many semi-industrial landowners are mirroring this 40-year rotation. While “traditional” 50–60-year rotations can still be found, they are less common, and it was not be until a unique family forest in Oregon, described in Chapter 5, that I would see the 80-year rotation I sort of expected to find. All that said, there is tremendous variation in all of these areas based on individual landowners’ goals, objectives, and values, these are just trends I observed and discussed with my hosts. 

Perhaps the most surprising forestry operation I learned about in Washington is stump harvesting for shake shingles. Large, old growth cedar stumps left over from first cuts are still present and quite common in some areas. Mike has worked with several landowners who got two commercial final harvests on the same stand: a conventional final harvest and a stump harvest. One to two years after the conventional harvest, crews will come into stands with abundant old growth cedar stumps, dig the stumps out of the ground with excavators, cut them into blocks, transport them to the deck (sometimes with helicopters) and haul them away in dump trucks and/or pickup trucks. These stump harvests are commercial with landowners commonly receiving somewhere around $1,000/acre stumpage for the stumps. Is stumpage even the right word? It really sounds more fitting in this application. “Second Stumpage?” “Stump Stumpage?” “Stump Stumpage for Stumps?” That last one must be right. While $1,000/acre stumpage would certainly be a below average stand (timber, not stumps) in Virginia, its not that rare. I chuckled telling Mike that I sold more stands than I could count for less than he got for some old stumps. 

The last stop on my tour with Mike was not forestry related but equally interesting to the stump stumpage for stumps. Our final stop was the Satsop nuclear power plant in Elma, WA, referred to as Washington Nuclear Project Nos. 3 and 5 (WNP-3 and WNP-5). Construction on the plant began in 1977 and ended in 1982 with only 16% of the project completed. Several factors led to the project’s cancelation. A lack of public support combined with total price tag for Satsop and three other WNP plants swelling from $4.1 billion to $24 billon certainly didn’t help. In the end, only one of the five planned plants ever reached operation (WNP-2). The entire Satsop facility was abandoned mid-construction with two cooling towers and several other buildings only partially completed. A public road provides access and Mike drove me through the facility. The scene was eerily dystopian, like something out of Mad Max or The Walking Dead. The WNP projects were carried out by The Washington Public Power Supply System (now called Energy Northwest). The failure of the WNP projects brought about the second largest municipal bond default in US history and led some people to pronounce the firm’s abbreviation “WPPSS” as “whoops!”

 

 

 

Chapter 7

Norm Michaels Forestry, LLC. McKenzie Bridge, Oregon
9/07/2021

Mostly a result of dumb luck, our travels were not directly impacted by wildfires. Fire restrictions had been the norm since Colorado, and after entering Montana, we had experienced some smokey days, but we did not have to cancel any plans due to active fires. We did hear about two fires that had popped up shortly after our departure from an area. Just two weeks after we left Polson Montana, the Boulder fire forced evacuations and destroyed structures near Finley Point (southeast end of Flathead Lake, near Polson), and just three days after we left Glacier National Park the Hay Creek Fire was ignited near Polebridge, causing closures in an area we had just visited. Wildfire was a regular topic of conversation with my ACF hosts: wildland urban interface (WUI) defensible space creation with Lyle and Bjorn in Colorado, discussions of state “hoot owl” restrictions on logging, ideas for wildfire risk mitigation on the family forest in Linn County Oregon, and the wildland firefighting component of Inland Forest Management’s business back in Sandpoint Idaho. While I had discussed fire with many ACF folks, and driven through many burn scars, I had not yet had the opportunity to really get on the ground of a recent fire and discuss the silvicultural and economic implications of severe fire. On September 7th, Norman (Norm) Michaels filled this gap in my Wandering Forester experience. Fittingly, on the day I met Norm, McKenzie Bridge was smoked out by nearby fires and the air quality index (AQI) was near 300.

While I assume a certain base level of forestry knowledge in the readers of this series, I feel a brief, oversimplified reminder of how we found ourselves in the current situation is warranted. Wildfire is a natural component of western forests and has been around since long before American expansion into the west. As settlement of the west grew, so too did the treat of damage to property and loss of life related to wildfires. Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States began actively trying to stop and suppress wildfires. This position was fortified by the 10 AM Policy (attempt to contain all fires by 10:00 AM the day after discovery) adopted by USFS in 1935. This period is referred to as the “burn exclusion period” by foresters and lasted until around 1980. Over this approx. 80-year period, landscape level stand structure was dramatically changed. Without frequent natural fires, many stands became denser with accumulations of plants and woody material in the understory and midstory. This additional material provided fuel that allowed less frequent (but inevitable) fires to become more extreme. The accumulation of fuel caused by longer fire return intervals (time between burns), is the primary factor driving extreme fire behavior today: more suppression = longer fire return intervals = more fuel = more severe fires. Extended droughts and heat waves exacerbate the situation and are not expected to improve in the short term. 

After 37 years with USFS, Norm Michaels “retired” in 2011 and began consulting for private landowners near his home in McKenzie Bridge Oregon. Norm works primarily for private landowners and provides services including management plan preparation, timber sale administration, reforestation, and timber appraisal. Additionally, Norm continues to work as a logistics chief on federally managed wildfires across the country and volunteers with the McKenzie Bridge Fire Department. 

The Holiday Farm Fire ignited on the evening of September 7th, 2020. Dirven by historically strong winds, the fire grew to thousands of acres by the next morning and was threatening the town of McKenzie Bridge. Norm was deployed on a fire in California when he got the call from his wife (who also volunteers with the McKenzie Bridge Fire Department) that the fire was threatening their town, and they were under evacuation orders. Norm returned home and spent several weeks helping the town fire department assist in suppression, evacuation, and structure defense efforts. By the time the fire was declared contained in mid-October 2020, one fatality was confirmed, 173,393 acres had burned, 738 structures were destroyed including about 400 homes, and the nearby town of Blue River was gone. Much of McKenzie Bridge, including Norm’s home survived the fire, however, his 137-acre Tree Farm just outside the town of Blue River had burned. Out of 137 total acres, only 10 acres contained sufficient stocking of live trees to continue growing. For the remainder of the property this fire was a stand replacement event. 

Following the Holiday Farm Fire, Norm was involved in salvage operations for many clients, as well as on his own Tree Farm. Following such an event, there is a short window to salvage harvest before the scorched trees decay to a point that they are not merchantable. Local markets are often flooded with salvage wood following a large fire, suppressing markets for already damaged timber. Due in part to his experience as a forester, and quick response, Norm was successful in salvage harvesting much of the timber on his property. While he fared better than some, the Holiday Farm Fire still represented several hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss for Norm, a significant financial hit for a small, private landowner. In addition to disrupting his scheduled rotation, and halving the stumpage value of the current stand, costly reforestation efforts were required on much of the property where natural regeneration was insufficient to support a quality stand. By the time I visited the property, about half had already been reforested with new Douglas-fir and Western redcedar seedlings, at a cost of nearly $1,000/acre. 

While industrial and private landowners are often successful in salvaging a fraction of their pre-fire stumpage value and using some of the proceeds to reestablish quality stands, public lands are often left to nature following severe, stand replacement fires. Federal agencies face many challenges when it comes to salvage harvesting. Perhaps the most significant of these challenges is the ability of “environmental” groups to litigate salvage harvesting efforts and delay salvage work long enough that much of the timber has decayed to a point the proposed operation is no longer economically feasible. By the nature of certain federal processes, these groups can prevent a salvage harvest even if their opposition is eventually found to be flawed or even frivolous. Sadly, Norm informed me that some offices may not even attempt to aggressively salvage because they know this familiar process of litigation and delay will eventually prevent their project from being completed. 

My commute to McKenzie Bridge, from our campsite in Sisters, Oregon took me through several burn scars from previous fires. From a distance, some of these areas appeared to have regenerated quite successfully, and I mentioned this observation to Norm. Norm informed me that many of the areas I had seen were previously mixed conifer stands with an abundance of generally desirable Douglas-fir, mountain hemlock, Pacific silver fir and noble fir. While the natural regeneration of these areas had been significant, the fires had caused a shift in species composition away from these species and in favor of lodgepole pine.  In addition to lower potential future economic value, these timber types provide less desirable habitat for many wildlife species of management concern and are less resilient to wildfire in the future. In many cases, the natural regeneration of these areas, combined with the woody debris left from the fire create stands that are likely to experience severe, stand replacement fires before reaching a size that would allow for widespread fire resistance practices like commercial thinning to be economically feasible. To a forester, it seems clearly preferable to salvage many areas and use the funds generated to actively manage for healthy, productive, resilient future stands. While there may be some opportunity to better salvage and improve public lands post-fire, there is a limit as to the amount of salvage wood that a region’s markets can support and on very large fires, there is simply not enough capacity to harvest and process every damaged acre. Federal agencies are also limited with their resources to administer salvage harvesting and are forced to allocate an increasing percentage of those resources to containing new, severe fires. 

While the situation may seem bleak, there are things that can be done to better design our communities to coexist with fire: minimizing human caused ignitions, strategic location of communities, use of fire-resistant building materials, community fire planning and fuel treatment activities adjacent to development. It is also important to engage with a wide range of citizens and policy makers to explain the benefits of actively managing our public and private lands to be fire resilient. 

 

 

 

Conclusion

For me, the summer of 2021 will not soon be forgotten. I feel fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to take this 6-month trip and meet so many amazing ACF members across the country. I had very high expectations of the ACF community, however I was continuously amazed with the level of support, and accommodation I received from the members I had the privilege of spending time with – top-notch professional foresters who were eager to participate in my project. It almost seemed like there was a competition amongst my hosts to show be the best time possible. Phil Sneed invited my wife and I into his home to watch the Kentucky Derby while enjoying Mint Juleps, a fantastic dinner, dessert, and casually betting on the races. Joe Reddan threw me a farewell dinner party before leaving Colorado. Mike Wolcott treated my wife and I to an evening boat tour and dinner on Lake Pend. David Edwards and I enjoyed beers with a view on Whidbey Island. Mike Jackson treated me the best Fish and Chips I have ever had before giving me a tour of an uncompleted nuclear power plant. Each host provided the educational opportunity I was looking for while showing off the best of their little corners of the country. I would be remiss not to mention ACF’s direct support, Communications and Membership Specialist Lucy Firebaugh, who was instrumental in the development and promotion of the Wandering Forester blog and editing/formatting my articles. Above all, I would like to thank ACF Executive Director Shannon McCabe, whose encouragement gave me the confidence to attempt this journey, and the continuous support to find interesting and enthusiastic hosts. 

When this project began, I expected to learn the most about the trees: different silvicultural practices for different species in different regions. While I was introduced to new species and management regimes, that was not the most interesting and informative aspect of the trip. I seemed to learn more about the business model variation within the profession and different customs in different regions. Although I had assumed that there would be a somewhat consistent business model that would feel familiar to me based on my time as a consultant in Virginia, this assumption was shattered. I found that every member I worked with had come into consulting through a different path and developed their own business model that worked in their location. I regularly found myself challenged to relate my own experience to the firms I visited. In Missouri, Phil deals with poor market conditions (relative to my baseline of eastern Virginia) and a landowner base that is relatively new to the concept of working with private forestry consultants. The firms I visited in Colorado work with nearly non-existent markets and find a niche providing primarily non-timber sale related services to their clients. In Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, markets were relatively good, however the dominant timber sale method was quite different with stumpage sales (primary sale method for consultants in the east) taking a backseat to delivered wood sales. Consulting forestry is just a small component of the forest products industry, and I was amazed to see such a high level of variation and adaptation within this relatively small profession. 

For me, the biggest takeaways from the trip were: 
1)  A humbling realization of how little I know, and how many opportunities to learn new things are out there. I found my forestry experience to be somewhat transferable. I was successful in communicating and understand management concepts. However, the variation in business model and local customs surprised me. Beyond forestry, going from having never spent the night in an RV to full-timing, mostly off grid without plans beyond the next couple nights, was a fun and challenging learning opportunity. 
2)  Just how great the ACF community is. I keep coming back to this, but it was truly impressive. Every member I met was, in addition to being an elite forester, overwhelmingly supportive and accommodating. It felt strange cold-calling all these busy professionals, typically in leadership roles at their firms, but as soon as I mentioned ACF, they were eager to help in any way they could. 

As I look forward to the next chapter of my forestry career, this experience has been exciting, fun, educational, formative, and will not be forgotten. I encourage anyone who can spend time with other ACF members to do so, especially if regions different from our own. We have a lot to learn from each other and every member I met was truly interested in supporting the development of the association. It has been on honor to be a member of this association and affiliated with such high caliber folks.

 


 

Postface

The seven chapters of The Wandering Forester mini-series follow the professional side of my journey across the country.  Here, for the interested reader, is some of the less professional but certainly no less amusing. 

 

 

April 18th, 2021
The very first stop of the trip was to see a college friend, Joe, in Narrows, Virginia. We made a weekend out of the visit, and I helped Joe hang plywood sheathing on a house he is building for his family nearby in West Virginia. Joe had a pet goat on the property named Gus. We were discussing appropriate job titles for Gus and settled on Chief Safety Officer. Gus proved ill-suited for the position and was quickly fired for chewing on live extension cords and scratching his horns on a 30’ extension ladder supporting the narrow walkway Joe was standing on.

 

 

May 7th, 2021
I rented snow spikes for my boots to summit Flattop Mountain (12,324’) in Rocky Mountain National Park. Below about 10,500’ the trail was easy: several feet of tightly packed snow. However, above the treeline where sunlight is obscured by the canopy, it was several feet of slush. Despite occasionally sinking to my waist, I was enjoying the hike and pushed on to about 11,200’. As a Virginia native, I am unfamiliar with snow packed trail etiquette and the damage “post-holing” caused to a snowshoe/ski trail. A gentleman on snowshoes politely informed me of what a “f***ing asshole” I was. The next day, my wife and I rented snowshoes and hiked a lower elevation trail where they were more on an encumbrance than benefit and my spikes from the day before would have been preferable. 

 

 

 

May 17th, 2021
Three days after leaving Estes Park (gateway to Rocky Mountain NP) we were in Great Sand Dunes NP, the most abrupt and radical contrast of environments I have experienced. I had unsuccessfully attempted to rent a sandboard but was able to borrow one from some random young women who happened to be from Richmond Virginia, less than an hour from my old house. 

 

 

May 21st, 2021
A combination of local cuisine, desperation and cultural differences apparently leads to the problem of defecation in the showers at Mesa Verde NP and this abnormal interpretive sign. 

 

 

May 29th, 2021
My original plan was just to hike down to Indian Garden, or perhaps Plateau Point from the south rim of the Grand Canyon. However, a brief conversation with a passing trail runner inspired me. This gentleman had been dropped off on the north rim at midnight and was running to the south rim without stopping, a little over 26 miles and almost a mile of elevation gain. I decided if he could do that, I could at least make it down to the Colorado River. After a little over 8 hours, I completed a Rim-River-Rim hike in the Grand Canyon. While I was proud of my accomplishment, it was a poorly timed challenge as a friend was meeting us a couple days later to hike around Bryce Canyon and Zion NPs and my legs and feet were destroyed. I still managed to hike (aka limp) some of the popular hikes in those parks!

 

 

June 6th, 2021
We found a large rock shaped like a certain part of the male anatomy in Arches NP.  As anyone of us with questionable maturity would, I sent a picture of it to several friends, implying that the rock was named after them.

 

 

June 22nd, 2021
We had been in Grand Teton NP for a few days and discovered that paddle boarding the Snake River from the Jackson Lake Dam down to the Pacific Creek launch was spectacular and suitable for relatively inexperienced paddlers. After 3-4 trips down this stretch of river I decided to try the next section (Pacific Creek to Deadman’s Bar). From talking with the ranger I’d purchased a watercraft permit from, I was under the impression that this would be a moderately difficult stretch of river. In hindsight, there is a big difference between a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and a kayak, and the ranger may not have been aware of which type of “paddler I was”. I made it down to Deadman’s Bar with little trouble, though I did have to drop to my knees a few times in some rough water and paddle hard at times. I was never excessively uncomfortable or felt the need to put on the PFD I had attached to my board. I had noticed a complete absence of any other SUPs and a few puzzled looks from folks on the shore on in large rafts. While carrying my board up to the takeout, I observed a raft guide giving the standard safety talk to his eight passengers, all wearing helmets and PFDs, and looking nervously excited. “The biggest killer on any river is foot entrapment, if you fall out keep your feet up and point your body down river”, etc. The guide saw me (shirtless, barefoot, and carrying an inflatable SUP) and his voice slowed, as if he was struggling to find the words he must repeat almost daily. “Hold on a second,” he said to his passengers. “Hey, did you ride that down from Pacific Creek?” he asked me, I replied in the affirmative. “How was it?” he asked somewhat puzzled. “A little cold but not bad, good views,” I said. He responded “Well, at least you are still alive. Right on dude!” and turned back to his crew. It took a few minutes for me to process what he had said and realize I might have just gotten away with something more dangerous that I thought. My wife had a similar conversation with a gentleman at the takeout at the bridge on Blackenship Road waiting to pick me up after paddling down the Middle Fork of Flathead River down from West Glacier. If you are ever around Glacier NP, paddle this route (perhaps not on a SUP), the river cuts through a gully with rock cliffs on both sides and it the most scenic route I have ever encountered. 

 

June 29th, 2021
There is a recreation area outside of Bozeman, Montana, around Hyalite Reservoir that was along our route and seemed interesting. It was too late to make reservations and was a popular area but there are several roads that allow dispersed camping, and three campgrounds that might have had last minute availability. We were coming off a major winning streak having scored top-notch dispersed camping in popular areas, it was the middle of the week, and we were confident that we could find a campsite anywhere, so we pulled the trailer up the mountain and began scouting for a site. We started with the most appealing campground. The gate was closed and a sign read “Full”. We went to the next campground and talked to the host who informed us that all the campgrounds were full but there were several marked sites for dispersed camping along two roads past the lake. The host hooked us up with a full tank of fresh water and we headed up the mountain as confident as ever. An hour later, we had determined that every dispersed site above the lake was occupied or tent only. Our confidence waning only slightly, we headed down the mountain to scout two additional roads for dispersed camping. The entrance to the first road was wide and smooth, within 100 yards it had degraded to a narrow 15% grade cut/fill road with large boulders and a steep drop-off (our 30’ trailer is still attached at this point). I was considering backing down the hill when I saw a Subaru approaching head on. The driver pulled his car off the road onto the cut side of the road beyond what was needed for me to pass or considered possible for his vehicle. As we passed, I stopped and asked if the road got better or I should back out, the driver said the road got better, there was a fork to turn around at, and “you might even find somewhere to put that thing!”. Encouraged, we pressed on. We arrived at the fork without finding any suitable sites and pressed on. Over the next few miles, the road conditions deteriorated further with little more than small rough tent sites along the route. About five miles in, it was clear we could go no further as the road was now little more than an ATV trail. Thankfully there was a turn in the road that allowed for a 30 point turn around with a little bumping, pushing, and scraping. At this point we had been scouting for a site for close to 3 hours and morale was low. The last road was even worse and had no turnaround. After four hours, we surrendered and limped down the mountain with several scratches on the truck and trailer, a bent trailer axel, and one of the trailer’s stabilizer jacks in the bed of the truck. This was the worst day of the trip. 

 

 

July 17th, 2021
My wife and I spent a little over a week in Glacier NP in 2018; A wonderful trip and the site of our engagement (Iceberg Lake, I’m a romantic). We were leaning towards skipping Glacier on this trip as it was peak season, and we know the park was extremely crowded and had gone to a permitted entry system that was competitive and we had missed. However, we were able to score a Boondockers Welcome (network of mostly RVers who let people camp on their property for free, great folks) host in Columbia Falls for two nights. Upon arrival, we decided we might want to stay longer and set about scouting for a dispersed camping site in the National Forest. After driving down gravel Forest Service roads for the better part of a day and finding every site (and then some) occupied, we gave up and headed back to the trailer resigned to only having two days in the area. On the way back, we saw an interesting gravel road in a remote area and decided to drive a few miles in and see what we could find. The first couple of miles were pretty sketchy: run down rigs that appeared to be semi-permanently squatting in the national forest. After about five miles, we found an ideal site right along a creek. There was another rig about 100 yards from the site, but it appeared relatively well kept and was out of sight from the site we found. We decided to go for it, set up a couple chairs and a table to stake our claim, and headed back to Columbia Falls to pick up the trailer. About two hours later we returned with our rig, happy to have found a nice campsite close to the park that we considered relatively safe and secure. Our illusions were shattered about a mile before our site when we observed a couple of gentlemen on dirt bikes enjoying a cigarette break. I recognized one of the gentleman’s several face tattoos from the television series Gang Wars on the history channel: SS lightning bolt teardrops of the notorious Aryan Brotherhood prison gang. While we did not see these same individuals again, we observed several other ATVs and dirt bikes repeatedly pass by slowly, and eyes lingering too long on our campsite. After two nights, we decided to move on while luck was still on our side.

 


August 14th, 2021
My wife’s brother and best friend wanted to come visit us at some point on the trip so they had booked flights to Portland, and we figured we could find something interesting to do in the area. Nice, interesting, fun people but not particularly outdoorsy or adventurous. After struggling to find a campsite to host the visit we had (by the skin of our teeth) scored a spot Dungeness Recreational Area outside Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula. Dungeness Recreation Area has gate-controlled access at the entrance (about a mile from the campground) that is closed from 10:00pm to 6:00am. With our guest’s flight landing in Portland at 10:00pm, and a 2-hour+ drive to Dungeness, we knew the gate would be closed when we arrived close to midnight. Additionally, staff had informed us that it was not advised to park at the gate overnight as multiple vehicles had recently had catalytic converters stolen when doing so. This too would be a problem as there was no alternative parking within about 10 miles of the gate. We decided not to break the news to our wary guests until the last minute. So, we had to inform them during the drive from the airport that their journey would not be over upon arrival as we would have to set up a decoy tent to dissuade would be thieves and then hike into the campground…in the dark and carrying their luggage. They were good sports about the situation and if there is a camera by that gate, someone probably got a pretty good laugh watching footage of four people unsuccessfully trying to trigger the gate to open from the inside by simultaneously jumping up and down in front of it for several minutes in the middle of the night.