The Forest Gives Much

Freshly harvested logs from the Menominee Forest in Keshena, Wis., marked with color to indicate each log’s grade.

Sustainable forestry is a long-running topic in these pages over the years. The previous times we have linked to Cara Buckley stories we have been enriched by the humanity in environmental stories, so here we combine her unique talent to the topic of forestry:

The Giving Forest

The Menominee tribe has sustainably logged its forest in Wisconsin for 160 years. But that careful balance faces a crisis: too many trees and too few loggers.

A tree marked for cutting. The Menominee harvest only trees that are sick and dying or those that have fallen naturally

MENOMINEE COUNTY, Wis. — Amid the sprawling farmlands of northeast Wisconsin, the Menominee forest feels like an elixir, and a marvel. Its trees press in, towering and close, softening the air, a dense emerald wilderness that’s home to wolves, bears, otters, warblers and hawks, and that shows little hint of human hands.

Yet over the last 160 years, much of this forest has been chopped down and regrown nearly three times. The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin, its stewards, have pulled nearly two hundred million cubic feet of timber from this land since 1854 — white pine cut into museum displays and hard maple made into basketball courts for the Olympics.

Yet the forest has more trees on the same acreage than it did a century and a half ago — with some trees over 200 years old.

The Menominee accomplished this by putting the well-being of the forest and their people ahead of profits and doing the exact opposite of commercial foresters. They chop down trees that are sick and dying or harvest those that have naturally fallen, leaving high-quality trees to grow and reproduce. It is regarded by some as the nation’s first sustainable forest.

But today the Menominee find themselves in a difficult spot. They don’t have enough workers to cut down enough trees. Few of the tribe’s younger members are interested in the painstaking, difficult handcutting that is the hallmark of the tribe’s sustainability practices.

The tribe has fallen short of its targeted annual harvest by more than half, threatening the viability of its historic sawmill, an important source of income. But more than that, the labor shortage threatens the health of a forest that is central to the tribe’s way of life.

“In a way, we’re fighting modernization, because nobody wants to pick up a manual handsaw,” said John Awonohopay, lumber operations manager for Menominee Tribal Enterprises, the company that oversees the forest. “Think of it as a garden. Right now we’ve spent 150 years plucking all the weeds, and have it pristine. But we can’t harvest the pristine fast enough.”…

Read the whole story here.

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