New ways to work in the woods

  • Greg Hanscom

 

In mid-October, an extraordinary group of people gathered in Ouray, Colo., below the already snow-corniced ridges of the San Juan Mountains. It was the annual meeting of the National Network of Forest Practitioners, a group that was founded in 1990 as an alternative to professional foresters’ groups, whose emphasis was mainly on making money for mills and timber companies.

Luis Torres, a longtime High Country News board member from northern New Mexico, was among the group’s founders. In the late 1980s, Torres was working in the tiny town of Vallecitos, N.M., which had recently seen its local sawmill close. Torres helped set up a wood-cutting cooperative to create jobs and help the forest recover from years of abuse. Rather than lumber, the cooperative cut firewood, as well as vigas and latillas — poles used in the ceilings of adobe houses and in the fences around them.

His work in Vallecitos put Torres in touch with people around the country who were practicing what he calls "community forestry." "We realized that there were a lot of people like us, working in the woods, who weren’t just cutting down trees," he says. "They were doing thinning and collecting mushrooms."

Together, with a small group of his new cohorts, Torres created the National Network of Forest Practitioners. Today, the network includes a Yale-trained forester who manages private land in Colorado with a goal of creating as many jobs as possible. Another member is a former butcher now working with migrant workers in Oregon, who have moved from the farm fields into the forests. Still another makes tea from herbs she harvests by hand from Alaska clear-cuts. Their common interest is a desire to restore forests and streams while creating sustainable jobs.

In this issue’s cover story, Adam Burke looks at another group of people who are reinventing the way we work in the woods — from within the U.S. Forest Service. After years of talk about reintroducing fire into the West’s ecosystems, these people are actually doing it: working on the hot, smoky front lines to turn fire into an ally, rather than an enemy.

Using tools as various as bare hands, chain saws and wildfire, the new breed of forest practitioners represents a small but growing force in the West. It shows that we may finally be coming to terms with a critical challenge: Trying to create a region that is livable beyond our lifetimes.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • RANCH HAND & HOUSING OPPORTUNITY IN DURANGO, CO
    Remodeled home with the opportunity to work off part of rent. Renter(s) must be available to help with lifting, irrigation & outdoor chores, 15-40 hrs...
  • INDIGENOUS LANDSCAPES AND COMMUNITIES DIRECTOR
    YOUR POSITION WITH TNC The Indigenous Landscapes & Communities Program is part of the North America Region's Conservation Collaboration team. The Conservation Collaboration team works...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...