Sustainable Woods

On the first day of my internship in Southwest Virginia, I went over to the wood processing center for Sustainable Woods. Part of Appalachian Sustainable Development, the wood processing center focuses on making and marketing flooring from sustainably harvested logs. They help landowners apply a forest management plan to their land and take far less wood than a traditional logging operation. They even use methods like horse logging, the practice of pulling logs out of the woods using horses. This reduces soil compaction and other disturbances compared to using heavy equipment. Sustainable Woods is my main interest in ASD and the focus of my internship.

It was a wet, cold, miserable day and yet I still learned a ton! For starters, running a "Sustainable" wood processing plant is a lot like running a regular processing plant. It takes saw operators, laborers and managers, all of whom can still wear camouflage and continue to be "joe six pack" while contributing to the efforts of an environmental non-profit.

In a way, ASD defeats the stereotype of environmentalists as "hippies" or "outsiders" by creating local sustainable jobs. For example, Chad is a horse logger on a contract with ASD. His accent is more Southern than Appalachian, his demeanor friendly and intelligent. Because the big loader wasn't working, Tim (a hardworking laborer with a sometimes incomprehensible accent) had to unload a truckload of huge logs with a tiny forklift. Since this took a while, Chad and I got to talkin'.

I wrongly assumed that sustainable logging was more of a side job for Chad, so I asked him how often he logged. "Every day," he responded, "we log full time." Chad has a distaste for environmental activists who "do nothing but talk." He considers himself an "active-ist," someone who's out there "doing the work, practicing good forestry" rather than just talking about it. When I told him that part of my internship was seeking Forest Stewardship Council certification for the forests he logs, he revealed that he doesn't think FSC goes far enough. "These people allow for clearcuttin'," he told me.

Chad doesn't like it when people talk about horse logging in terms of going back to an older way of logging. He considers horse logging to be very modern, and explained to me that the horse breeds have gotten bigger and the tools more efficient since the old days. Chad represents what ASD is all about-changing the system from within rather than from without. When someone like Chad talks to his friends and neighbors about sustainability, they listen in a way that they would never listen to a liberal college boy like me.

---- More dispatches from the hills soon, so stay tuned!

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