A Forest is Forever

If a tree falls in a sustainably managed forest, does it have market value? Peter and Pam Hayes would like the answer to be an unequivocal “yes.” The Hayes manage Hyla Woods, an 800-acre, family-owned forest in the northern Oregon Coast Range that produces sustainably managed timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Their goal is to create an ecologically complex, economically viable, responsibly operated forest. Noble pursuits such as these often get tripped up by the “economically viable” part. But borrowing some lessons from agriculture’s success in engaging local communities, the couple thinks it can make the woods work.

As a fifth-generation Oregonian whose family has always had a hand in the logging industry, Peter Hayes is familiar with the traditional business model. Many forest owners have simplified their land into industrial plantations of single species such as, say, Douglas fir. Homogenizing the landscape in this way increases profitability because it’s cheaper to clear-cut a uniform plot than to log an area with lots of different species. Clear-cutting may increase profit in the short term, but the Hayes believe a forest with multiple species and trees of many ages is a better long-term investment. A diversified plot is more resilient, produces better-quality wood and can sustain production for generations

The Hayes knew there was a demand for their FSC-certified wood, but finding a mill to manage FSC logs separately was close to impossible. So, the forestry duo got creative about ways to get their logs directly into the hands of end users.

First, Hyla Woods began operating its own mill three years ago. Then, they borrowed farming’s community-supported agriculture (CSA) model to create a community-connected forest (CCF). A CSA invites locals to buy shares in the farm in exchange for a regular produce delivery. The CCF allows locals to help maintain the forest and get first dibs on firewood and FSC-certified wood products. In addition, through the Build Local Alliance and Forest Partners program, builders and foresters work closely to sustain each other’s businesses. Hyla Woods supplies FSC-certified materials to local contractors and furniture makers who reciprocate by committing to build green and buy local. So far, this symbiosis is paying off, despite the recession. The community-connected aspects of the Hyla Woods business are holding up far better than the mainstream commodity wood market. And now, when a tree falls in Hyla Woods, the Hayes know exactly which floor, chair, or fireplace it will end up in.

Published in Ode magazine, April 2009

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