Reprinted with permission from Rural Heritage Magazine.

I find hope in this article title being an obvious statement to many of the Rural Heritage readers, but as John Prine sang, “that common sense ain’t so common anymore.”

Background  Overview ~

The use of modern draft animal power to address human needs makes so much sense that it escapes many folks. Some of the old timers seem to blame it on the schools; they say “they’re educated beyond their intelligence”.  It is so easy to pigeon hole the people that work with animals as being a throw back to the past. It apparently takes some real vision to see this work as a viable option for the future, because the green jobs creation program people didn’t make it out to our event.  Our goal in conducting these events is to educate the public by having them actually see this work – while describing it and defining “Restorative Forestry” as being as “green” as it gets.

But as we all know the most environmentally sensitive part of everyone is their wallet or the other “green” we all need.  This reality allows the conversations to be empowered by common sense again. We know that over the long term, a properly managed forest will make more money with less input than any another other land use.  Ok, a bigger one time return can come from a piece of land being used for building a house or development of some kind. But, since we also know that some land will never be available for building or development for many reasons, we have the option to manage it as a forest, as the superior use.  Our purpose is to promote this form of management as superior in every regard, except getting rich quick.  The economics are summed up by the bumper sticker that says:  Make a living, not a killing.

It is a unique position to have a non-profit that exists for the public good. What this means in a common sense way is that the group works to serve the public good when no other government agency is working in that particular way.  For HHFF it is a matter of it being obvious and common sense that the practices are more sensitive to the environment. But it is also common sense that you can’t make a living doing it if you sell all your products into a market that is commodity defined and supplied by fossil fuel fired unsustainable ways. This position allows us an opportunity in this great country – to compete with the government for some funds by having the status of being a Charitable Organization and being tax exempt, giving tax deductible receipts for any donations. This work serves the Public Good, probably in more ways than I can explain.

So, we present this perspective as a way of draft animal people to understand what this “treeroots” group is about.  We have had this status for over ten years now. This 501c3 status is a good deal – although the country is full of crooked non-profits of all sorts. Some are set up just to cry the sky is falling and most of the money goes to the people running them. That is not happening here folks. HHFF puts all of it’s money back into the community and promotes restorative forestry through the use of modern animal powered techniques. We are a completely volunteer organization. If anyone has any questions about this group please contact us. Charitable giving is very weak at the moment and we have a very difficult time competing for grants, for several unbelievable reasons, but the public still sends smalls amounts which keep us going.  Please see the address at the end of this article to contribute.

The Actual Work ~

The basic program at Open Woods Day is divided into three parts. First is the – Silviculture or how we grow the trees as a part of the whole forest ecosystem. The most important aspect of our silvics is taking the “worst trees first”. This phrase is so hard for a conventional forester to say. Mostly because they didn’t think it up, but also because they don’t make as much money on a single harvest that way. Our selection method of choosing individual trees based upon poor performance is done using a system we developed called “Nature’s Tree Marking Paint”. This is a list of physically visible indicators of decline divided into three categories of, Damaged, Diseased and Inferior. There are about 18 indicators that are taught to the Biological Woodsmen through the HHFF apprentice program. We explain and show these indicators to our visitors before felling the tree. This is the beginning of the manufacturing process and the timber cutter is the front door of the business. This is the most strenuous and dangerous part of the work. Great skill is required to do that part with safety and protecting the residual or trees left to grow faster. My son Jagger Rutledge is our timber cutter and handles this demonstration with skill in communicating and actually doing the job.  In a good site there can be several thousand board feet of logs per acre to harvest in this healing fashion. It requires almost surgical precision when felling. That is our silviculture in a simple sense.

The extraction method is the second aspect of the work that is shown at an HHFF Open Woods Day. We demonstrate the techniques of precise control of the animal power source used to extract the logs with ultimate lowest overland impact possible. There is always discussion of the driving touch and speaking to the animals. Visitors often think the horses are doing the work on their own as a result of the teamster’s subtle sensitive signals. The woods present obstacle courses that should make it illegal for a horse logger to compete in a “horse show” obstacle course contest.  The logging horses are so familiar and comfortable in the woods, it is there place of work after a short time of doing it. Each one has been introduced to the sounds of chainsaws running and trees felling before being asked to move around against the resistance of a loaded log arch. As long as all the loud noises and crashes don’t touch them in their first exposure they come to ignore it as a nothing to be afraid of.   We utilize a modern logging arch to provide front end suspension of log length segments, graded  and bucked by the timber feller and a skid trail cleared to access the logs. The modern logging arch plans are available on our web site and can be fabricated by a local welding shop or skilled welder anywhere. This device provides increased operator safety by riding and not being on the ground with woody debris and rough surfaces. The logging arch reduces the disturbance created when the log is skidded to the landing for loading or sawing on site. Many of the Biological Woodsmen have converted their harness to the New England D-Ring style to provide a more comfortable fit for the horses carrying the load and heavy tongue weight of an empty two wheeled log arch.

The third aspect of this work and demonstration is the marketing of the forest products to gain the greatest value for the landowners and the practitioners. When possible we prefer to value add the forest products by at least conducting the primary processing or sawmilling on site. This was the case with some species (black locust, cherry) that we had immediate markets for but unfortunately that doesn’t apply for all the tree species we harvest. So, as much as we can sell or afford to pay the processing cost on – stays in our inventory or is sold directly into local markets or markets developed through our DRAFTWOOD “community green certified” forest products program. These specialty products include Black Locust Decking that is sold as an alternative to rain forest species that are highly resistant to weathering in exterior applications. This species is a naturally preserved wood that will last for years without treatment in outdoor use. This product is often prescribed as a “green” alternative to the rain forest wood by architects that design high end homes for folks that are committed to the “green movement”, as implied in the title of this article. We also offer pre-finished and unfinished hardwood flooring in all species native to the Appalachian forest type.  The remainder of our products (logs) beyond locally used lumber like oak fencing boards and farm building materials is sold into the conventional forest products industry, on a raw log delivered basis for whatever they will give for them. The more we value add, the more of the money stays in the local community and the more we build a constituency for the best care of the forest. When local folks make more money from their woods than having a conventional crew high grade or clear cut their woodlot, the more they like working with our program and approach to restorative forestry. As you might imagine this is a much slower process than bidding the timber off for a lump sum payment and the machines coming in and doing what usually happens to woods everywhere. Our approach protects the aesthetic natural beauty of the forest and over the long run (30 years) and multiple harvest rotations we make more money for the landowners and they have their forests intact throughout the process. We encourage them have their cake and eat it too.

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