By Stephen J. Lyons
Cottonwood, Idaho - Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth
of St. Gertrude's Monastery wants to be reincarnated as the
monastery porcupine so she can keep an eye on the progress of the
1,000 acres of forest she
"I want to make sure
the younger nuns are doing a good job."
small office sits a hard hat and tool belt, a stack of natural
history field guides, and a coffee mug emblazoned with the words
"Hug a Tree." Her prize possession is a well-read copy of Aldo
Leopold's Sand County Almanac, a gift from her friend and mentor,
former University of Idaho extension forester Bill
"I started from
scratch," the 50-ish Wassmuth says. "Five years ago I couldn't tell
the difference between a pine tree and a fir tree. I took every
forestry course I could find. This year I managed my first timber
Schlosser was a key player in Wassmuth's
transformation. After taking his seven-week "short course" on
forest management, Wassmuth issued an immediate ban on logging and
took a year to write a forest management plan that reflects the
philosophy of the monastery's 90 members. She came up with two
definite goals for two diverse parcels of land.
The 120-acre forest of ponderosa pine, grand fir and Douglas fir
directly behind the monastery is managed for aesthetics, songbirds
and wild flowers. The Benedictine sisters use this forest for
solitude and spiritual reflection. Stations of the Cross and a
small grotto and cemetery are here; the blue porphyry stone used
almost a century ago to build the monastery was quarried within
this small forest.
Conversely, on nearby
Cottonwood Butte, directly north of the monastery, 880 acres of
spruce and larch are managed for sustainable income. The monastery
consults with professional foresters, but Wassmuth calls the shots.
A selective harvest thinned out 6 acres of genetically inferior
trees in the smaller, 120-acre parcel. Thirty thousand board-feet
of wood were harvested according to Wassmuth's careful
instructions. "I told them that by the summer I didn't want it to
look like it had been logged."
The fruits of
Sister Carol Ann's labors will be seen when she is in her 80s, or
later, when she is a porcupine. At night, when the monastery is
quiet, she says she can close her eyes and in her mind walk through
the forest examining each and every tree.
economics, ecology and spirituality co-exist? Wassmuth thinks so.
St. Gertrude's philosophy of land use is stated in the management
plan. "In order to live in harmony with the earth and to promote
responsible stewardship we commit ourselves ... to using the land
for financial profit in a responsible manner, always seeking to
maintain the quality of soil, air and water and the healthy balance
of animal and plant life ..."
foresters, often overlooked among the usual plows-and-cows mandate
within the University of Idaho College of Agriculture, help forest
landowners increase their knowledge and management skills. Classes
range from estate planning to forest ecosystems. They fit the needs
of three groups: private woodland owners, professional foresters,
such as consultants, and loggers. Right now, high timber prices are
sending a lot of private woodland owners back to school. A recent
seven-week forest management short course had a waiting list of
University of Idaho extension foresters try
their best to introduce the idea of a land ethic: "We need to help
foster an ethic but not say what it should be," says University of
Idaho extension forester Ron Mahoney, whose first slide at last
March's "Managing the Family Forest" conference was of an owl. "The
fact that you own land means you have a responsibility. Some people
look at their forest as simply money in the bank without looking at
it in a generational and ecological
"We try to give people a
wide range of factual knowledge to merge with their own feelings
about stewardship and ethics."
headquartered in the College of Forestry and Range Sciences in
Moscow, and his remaining field extension forester, Chris Schnepf,
is at the Kootenai County Extension Office in Coeur d'Alene.
Schlosser left last July for a similar position at Michigan State
University. Because of budget cuts, the vacancy was frozen for
months, although it may be filled soon.
Wassmuth's reforestation plan calls for cleaning up poor logging
practices of the past, a theme echoed by other forest landowners
interviewed for this
"I wish I could undo
the past 20 years," Wassmuth says. "What we had done in the past
was call up a logger and say, "Go log." They would take the best
and leave the rest."
inferior trees flies in the face of good forest management,
according to Schnepf. "Generally, we try to cut the weak, the sick,
and the lame, and leave higher quality trees. Leaving trees with
more vigorous growth and form promotes a high return in future
harvests because of faster growth rates and logs with higher
Wise forest management
challenges the common view in America of instant economic
gratification. Trees require time, and a good forest management
plan outlives the original author and reaches out to future
generations. "Forests take longer to mature than we do," Schlosser
says with a smile.
J. Lyons writes from Moscow, Idaho.