by Jason Rutledge

It seems ironical that in this American modern world there are more horses in the country now than ever before, according to the USDA. Yet most of those horses are for leisure, pleasure use and not actually utilitarian animals. This “working relationship”we present is a wonderful choice and may also be one of the most redeeming characteristics of modern humans. That humans are wise enough to choose such wonderful creatures to live with speaks well for our future considering some of the other choices displayed in modern life.

This is a short story of some who choose to live with horses in a very utilitarian way. Many Americans may not have heard of this. It is the story of a small non-profit, public charity organization, the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation. (HHFF) promotes the modern use of draft horses in the forest products industry. This choice of animal power is not one of nostalgia or wanting to go back in the past, but one of deep considerations for the future of all life on our planet. It is a choice that considers all life on the planet as important and precious. Our approach values all life as being precious enough to protect and preserve through sensitive relationships with our environment that expresses an honest recognition of the role humans play in the big picture. If that perspective is dismissible as being human centered then so be it. This is the best forestry and best use of horses that we know. This work is about “Carbon Positive Forestry” achieved by taking the best of the past to make a better future. One of the most endearing aspects of this work is that we are still learning and will continue to improve our skills and techniques. Maybe this article title should be – “living humbly is more likely to lead to ecological harmony”? Although this is a short story, it is not a sound bite or commercial, but a story of the real life efforts made by many families in Appalachia and across the world.

The choice of working horses in the forest is a key biological component in the practice of “restorative forestry”. Restorative forestry means imitating nature and taking the worst individual trees first, using skilled directional felling and modern horse logging. These harvesting systems leave the forest intact while extracting forest products for human needs. We do see the whole forest, despite it being mostly trees. As we evolve and learn more about the environment we continue to see the value of being sensitive. Unlike many environmental movements we maintain that what is good for the environment and ecology is also good for the economy. Over the long term this active forestry will make the most money for the landowners, while protecting the ecosystem and enhancing the forests ability to offset our carbon emissions. This is a very complex issue, yet it makes simple sense when it includes the ethical values of stewardship, by leaving a place better than you found it. It has been said that “The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”- Gaylord Nelson

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not writing this to romanticize modern horse logging, despite it often being called “the sexy way to log”. I wouldn’t even dispute that it is sexy to work with big, beautiful, strong horses and handsome people in the woods. This work is simply worth far more than just being sexy. To quote one handsome young practitioner, “It is the right thing to do”. I agree that it is the right thing to do any way you look at it. I also am comfortable to acknowledge that it is labor intensive, hard, dangerous work and currently not an easy way to make a living. Don’t even think about looking into this if you are lazy or looking to get rich quick. Everyone else – pay attention! Even if it is not for you, you may know someone that is just right for this particular lifestyle of living with horses and animals as partners in addressing human needs from the natural world. Tell them about this article and YES magazine.

Healing Harvest Forest Foundation (HHFF) educates the public about the benefits of restorative forestry and modern horse logging. We also educate and support the practitioners of restorative forestry through financial and technical assistance. As my friend Wendell Berry said “powers not employed by the government are left to the people”. There are often issues that aren’t served to support the dominant paradigm, which usually makes them beneficial for the public good by default. Those issues are addressed by our group as an embodiment of the potentials of our governmental system. This system that allows people to address issues that serve the public good, in their own ways, are empowering. This is a good example of that empowerment. A public charity is able to share revenue with the government to address issues of public good not served by the government directly. This organization operates as a 501c3, non-profit, public charity that exist to serve the public good. We are like the green cross for the forest and are basically “organic loggers”. Our educational system is based on the proven teaching methods of a mentor/apprentice network, where applicants are matched with a proven practitioner for a twelve week intensive hands-on learning experience in the forest. Applications are available on our web site or through regular mail. Apprentices are learning the skills necessary to do this work and the ethics of why to do it. Acceptance for an apprenticeship and grants for these applicants are reviewed by the board of directors and are approved as appropriate and as funds are available. Eighty (80%) percent of our budget goes directly to the ground level workers. This is clearly bottom up change. Our funding comes from mostly private donations and some small grants. We also accept donations of horses, equipment, trucks, trailers, RV’s or anything of value that we can use to further this work. All donations are tax deductible. We appreciate all support. Your support makes you a part of the effort to do things differently in our natural world.

Last year we were donated and then granted 12 horses to practitioners. We have granted educational cost, log loaders, chainsaws, personal protective gear, harness, collars, computers, educational courses and a variety of equipment to HHFF practitioners also. A “Biological Woodsman’s Certification” is awarded to each apprentice that successfully completes their training. We network to locate job opportunities for the new Biological Woodsman in their community and support them into the future. At the moment we are primarily an Appalachian regional service area. This is because of limited funding to support the overwhelming demand for the services of a modern horse logger – specifically a HHFF trained “Biological Woodsman” – that practices “restorative forestry”. We started the organization as the formal response to that demand as experienced by the original members of the informal founding group that is called the Healing Harvest Forestry Coalition. At first there were two, now there are over fifty Biological Woodsmen throughout the mid Atlantic region. We maintain a contact list of horse loggers from all over the country and act as a referral service to those individuals in response to inquiries from landowners throughout the country. There are not enough of us to address the demand for services, but we are growing. Some may say that it is too little to late, but that doesn’t excuse us from doing what we know is the right thing for all life on our planet. There is a certain burden to knowledge and this is an environmentally ethical response to knowing we have to do things differently to change the results of human presence on this planet. We haven’t figured out how to save the planet and get rich, but feel comfortable by making an effort to do things differently and make a living. It is like the bumper sticker that says: “Make a living, not a killing”.

Our work includes sales of source differentiated forest products through our “green certified” brand name DRAFTWOOD. Our latest effort is in collaboration with Turman Log Homes to sell five log homes built from our logs. This allows our group to get a finders fee on those sales and use that money to establish a self insurance fund for our group of practitioners. If you know anyone considering a Log Home please tell them about the group in Appalachia that uses horses to get the logs out. Give us a call and we will hook (hitch) you up to have a home with the best “source story” in the country, maybe the world. If you can’t get out and hack one from the forest yourself, this could be the best alternative available. This is one of the most innovative approaches to influencing the behavior of the dominant paradigm and industrial methods. Our local industry has challenged us to prove that “green” means something in the market place, so here is our chance to show that people care about the earth….contact us or Turman Log Homes and tell them you want a DRAFTWOOD Log Home. We also supply beams for timber frame companies and are working on regular structural lumber for conventional buildings, through the LEED system and architects that are members of the U.S. Green Building Council.

There is a place for working horses in the modern world and as we learn more about the value of the ecosystem services there will continue to be a beneficial place for them in the future. Currently the value of the ecological services of the forests provide for the public good are not quantified in our economic system. We must change the economic system to include all the cost of meeting our life needs and this is a start in that direction.

Our horses are of all draft breeds, but we have many Suffolk horses among our group. The Suffolk Punch is a rare and endangered species that is listed on some list as near extinct. We support animal powered techniques to include all draft animals, including mules, oxen and even elephants. The point is that they present the lowest impact harvesting method available – plus other collateral benefits including social stability. We promote and practice modern natural horsemanship and train apprentices in those skills. We also use modern chainsaw safety and skills techniques that were developed in Europe.

For more information about this work please call, email or visit our web site and let us know if you have any interest, questions or comments. Thank the people at Yes Magazine for introducing you to a new group that are environmental actualist, it is life logic- it's biological.

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