Loving the Land through Working Forests

By Annie Socci, Executive Director, Foundation for Sustainable Forests

A forest, kindly used, will outlive unimaginably any of its trees,” writes renowned author Wendell Berry in “A Forest Conversation,” an essay about the Foundation for Sustainable Forests, a 501(c)3 nonprofit land trust located in northwestern Pennsylvania. Established in 2004, the mission of the Foundation for Sustainable Forests (FSF) is to protect forests as conserved working forests that support healthy ecosystems and rural communities, and to promote sustainable forestry practices. To date, FSF has protected over 900 acres of forested land, comprised mostly of northern hardwood forests, with bequests of several thousand more. Through the years, Founder and President Troy Firth has used observation and experience to develop a forest management approach that includes (among others): “worst first” tree selection for harvest, uneven-aged management using small group selections (also a form of “femelschlag”), and the use of horses to skid logs and minimize residual damage to the forest floor. The result is a higher frequency (approximately every 5-10 years) and lower intensity of cuts, and forests that embody Mr. Berry’s words in a time when threats to forest health, such as invasive species and damaging timber harvests, abound.

As part of its commitment to promoting sustainable forestry, the FSF established an in-the-field conference, Loving the Land Through Working Forests, that showcases and explores a holistic approach to forest management for the benefit of both land and people. The event is attended by woodland owners, foresters, researchers, conservationists and anyone who wants to learn about forest health and how to manage for resilience and vigor in an ever-changing landscape. Presenters over the past five years have included author and poet Wendell Berry, Aldo Leopold-biographer Curt Meine, Jason Rutledge of the Healing Harvest Foundation, and Starling Childs of the Great Mountain Forest, along with Amanda Mahaffey and Mike Debonis of the Forest Stewards Guild. The diversity of presenters and attendees has made for rich conversations and insights over the years.

This year will be the 6th Annual Loving the Land Through Working Forests conference, to be held about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh at the Moxie Woods, a newly acquired 128-acre woodland in Greenville, PA. Events include a Woods Hike for forest professionals and Friends of the Foundation Dinner on Friday, May19th, and a full program of presentations for the public on Saturday, May 20th. James Finley, Pennsylvania State University’s Ibberson Chair of Forest Resources, and Marshall Pecore, Forest Manager of the Menominee Forest in Wisconsin, are featured presenters who will share their insights on sustainable forestry and cultivating a land ethic for the future. Additional presentations will discuss conservation legacy planning options for woodland owners, forest management for birds and other native pollinators, and woods walks with FSF Forest Managers Troy Firth and Guy Dunkle as they lay out their long-term vision for the Moxie Woods in “Beginning a Path to Sustainable Forestry.”  

When asked how we define “sustainability” as an organization, we often defer to the words of Aldo Leopold, who wrote, “A thing is great when it preserves the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The FSF’s Loving the Land Through Working Forests provides an important venue not only for much-needed education, but also for gathering a community of people who seek to cultivate their own sustainable land ethic and steward the land accordingly. If you are interested in learning more about the Foundation for Sustainable Forests and its upcoming Loving the Land Through Working Forests, visit foundationforsustainableforests.org/events or call (814) 694-5830.