Tuesday, 15 October 2002
A Big Walk in the Big Woods of Big Creek

On September 27th, Big Creek Lumber Company, sitting high on a cliff with spectacular ocean views, hosted a group of 20 FSC supporters for a tour of the company’s FSC certified forest operations near Davenport, CA. Big Creek currently manages 6,800 acres of FSC-certified forestland containing primarily coastal redwood, as well as some Douglas fir.

The tour began with a visit to the lumberyard. Stacks of redwood logs piled high were the background as Bud McCrary, Vice President of Big Creek, demonstrated growth patterns of redwoods. Using cross-sections of redwood trunks, McCrary explained how proper forest management, which allows for more light and soil nutrients, can foster “release" in trees resulting in a significantly faster growth rate than in unmanaged forests.

Next the group visited an area of forest that will be harvested in the near future. Bob Berlage, communications director at Big Creek (and a former tree feller himself), explained the intricate and often time-consuming processes involved when a forest is selectively harvested, as opposed to being clear-cut. The group was also shown how tree stumps are purposely left in place, as the redwood will actually sprout new trees from a freshly cut stump, drawing from the root system that is already in place.

Steve Webb, a Registered Professional Forester at Big Creek, demonstrated how to fell a selected tree, without damaging near-by trees that are not yet slated for harvesting. With an enormous crash that caused more than a little stirring among the group, Webb successfully landed a 180-foot tall redwood approximately 30" in diameter and 110 years old, into a safe clearing. The group learned that because redwoods are quite brittle, they often shatter when landing. Therefore, foresters prefer to fell trees into the soft undergrowth of the forest, rather than into an open field where the ground tends to be hard and unforgiving.

Dr. Gordon Orians of the University of Washington and Dr. Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution, both members of the National Academy of Sciences, offered considerable scientific insight during the tour. Among those in attendance were Daniel Hall and Kate Heaton, FSC-U.S. Board Members; Asa Tham, Chair of FSC International; Lewis Buchner, Chair, Certified Forest Products Council and VIDA company founder; Robert Hrubes, Senior Vice President, Scientific Certification Systems; Bill Hayward, President, Hayward Lumber Company; Dr. Dominique Irvine; Stanford University and William Hull, Consultative Group for Biodiversity.

The group also visited another forest that had been harvested three years ago. Eric Huff, senior administrative forester for Big Creek, discussed a necessary part of forest management that is often not brought into discussions of sustainable forest management: road construction. Before this piece of forest could be harvested, roads had to be built to maneuver fallen trees safely out of the forest. As part of this road construction, stumps had to be uprooted. Instead of simply disposing of the stumps, they were placed strategically along the banks of the road, and new tree sprouts grew.

Maintaining biodiversity is also a significant part of the Big Creek forest management plan. Dr. John Bulger, a wildlife biologist consultant for Big Creek, explained how careful measures are taken to preserve protected species on the land, as well as not to disturb any other wildlife while harvesting preparations are made. For example, just before a harvest three years ago, a pair of Coopers hawks and their nest were spotted in the forest. Big Creek incorporated a buffer zone of undisturbed vegetation around the active nest into their harvesting plan until the babies were hatched.

The day ended back at the Big Creek forestry office where the group parted ways, armed with new knowledge of sustainable forest management practices on the ground.

As noted by Dr. Orians, “People who are skeptical about certified forestry operations should visit the site of a certified company to observe the care taken and the quality of the habitat that remains. First hand observations are much more vivid and convincing than published statistics."