The (Over)Story on Forests and Communities

Landscape & Livelihood students spent the past two weeks delving into Forests and Communities, one of the five courses covered in the L&L program. This year we had the pleasure of learning from two new instructors, SVC Conservation and Stewardship Associate Mike Mayernick, and Jim Burchfield, SVC Advisory Board member and former Dean of the School of Forestry at the University of Montana. Students learned about stand characteristics, fire ecology, timber harvest, and the many different realms of forest management strategy and policy. Students were also able to gain some insight into the inner workings and challenges of collaborative group dynamics by attending the Southwestern Crown Collaborative meeting earlier this week.

L&L student Sarah Fisher summarized the depth of the Forests and Communities class:

“Forests and Communities sounds simple but covers a wide range of niches both ecological and economical, from learning how to wield a maul, to being a part of the passionate and powerful communication it takes to wield ideas into critical and collaborative action. Thanks to the stories of individuals and their relationship to the woods, we were able to get a glimpse into the complicated and truly mosaic stewardship practices that impact the Swan Valley and its neighbors.”

  Checking the age, represented by the number of growth rings, on a larch tree.  Photo by Sarah Fisher.

Checking the age, represented by the number of growth rings, on a larch tree.
Photo by Sarah Fisher.

There were so many great experiences during the Forests and Communities class, including a visit with Ben, Joy, and Malcolm Thompson at RBM Lumber. This was an incredibly insightful day where students saw the full process from onsite timber harvesting to the final creation of beautiful wood products at the mill. Ben and Joy welcomed us for dinner in their wonderful home, sharing the story of how RBM came to be and the philosophy that guides their work.

  A rainy walk through the woods with Ben Thompson.  Photo by Sarah Fisher.

A rainy walk through the woods with Ben Thompson.
Photo by Sarah Fisher.

  L&L students Izzy and Sarah pose in front of the RBM Lumber saw mill.  Photo by Meredith Fraser.

L&L students Izzy and Sarah pose in front of the RBM Lumber saw mill.
Photo by Meredith Fraser.

  Seated around hand crafted tables made in the door shop at RBM, students listened to Ben Thompson discuss RBM’s practices and efforts to reduce waste at the mill. Photo by Meredith Fraser.

Seated around hand crafted tables made in the door shop at RBM, students listened to Ben Thompson discuss RBM’s practices and efforts to reduce waste at the mill.
Photo by Meredith Fraser.

Students spent another day learning about forestry on private lands, meeting with Dave and Kay Owens at their family-run tree farm. This was an incredible learning opportunity and students were impressed with how beautifully the Owens’ have managed their forest, not to mention how cool it is that they collect seeds from their own trees in order to support regeneration in a stand after thinning.

While each day of the course has been jam-packed with learning and amazing people, one of the students’ favorite days was Community Firewood Day right here in Condon. This annual event brings the community together to buck, split, and deliver firewood to their neighbors in need. You never know what winter is going to bring in the Swan and a little extra firewood in the bank can go a long way!

  L&L student Izzy Mason chopping firewood at Community Firewood Day.  Photo by Andrea DiNino

L&L student Izzy Mason chopping firewood at Community Firewood Day.
Photo by Andrea DiNino

  L&L students Addison Doporto & Lily Lang and former SVC Education Coordinator Sara Halm delivering firewood to community members in need.  Photo by Andrea DiNino

L&L students Addison Doporto & Lily Lang and former SVC Education Coordinator Sara Halm delivering firewood to community members in need.
Photo by Andrea DiNino

  L&L students, SVC staff and community members coming together to chop, split & haul firewood. Photo by Andrea DiNino

L&L students, SVC staff and community members coming together to chop, split & haul firewood.
Photo by Andrea DiNino

L&L student Addison Doporto was impressed by how much was covered in the course including forest measurement, meeting with loggers in the Swan and Flathead Valleys, attending the Southwestern Crown Collaborative meeting, speaking with a wildlife biologist, and learning about forest ecosystems, fire ecology, and collaboration. She shared her reflections on the true meaning of forests and communities:

During the Southwestern Crown Collaborative meeting I had a true epiphany where I realized what the title of the course, “Forests and Communities” really means. While we listened to members of the Collaborative and the Forest Service discuss the public lands surrounding us, it became clear to me that not only are communities dependent on forests, but that forests also need communities to survive. This course taught us that forests play a large role in many people’s lives. When we met with different loggers across the Northwest we learned that people are dependent on forests for their livelihoods, and when we helped at community firewood day we learned that people are dependent on forests to heat their homes in the winter. Forests literally provide means of survival to those in the surrounding community, and community members provide protection to forests. If I have learned anything in this course, it is the importance of connectivity between ecosystems and communities. While the forest is necessary for our survival, we cannot forget that the forest needs us too, and this relationship must remain a symbiotic one. Instead of being the Mountain Pine Beetle, the most damaging insect to a Whitebark Pine Stand, let humans be the Clark’s nutcracker and help hold the ecosystem together.”