The Patient, Relentless Forest

Jack Savage | August 7, 2010

When I’m at the gym, making like a hamster on the treadmill or stationary bike, my eyes are drawn to the bank of a dozen televisions hanging from the ceiling. And when I tire of my own random thoughts pinballing around inside my rather empty brainchamber (the echoes can give me headaches), I’ll sometimes plug in the headphones in and click through the channels. Too often I settle on CNBC, where I’m duped into believing the “experts” actually know what the they’re talking about when it comes to the economy.

It’s all about predicting growth. When will the economy grow, how will it grow, what sectors will grow, in what parts of the country or world will it grow and how fast will it grow? Unless the European markets are down and the boob-tube pundits are ready for a day of dire predictions. I’ve become convinced that the talking heads indulge themselves in doom for no better reason than it feels so good when they stop.

Farmers can indulge in a similar kind of doomsaying. Sugarmakers are notorious—the last “good” year for maple syrup came back when Grover Cleveland was president. And I have yet to come across a farmer who has ever had a “good” season for hay.

Who could blame them? When your price per gallon or price per bale is so dependent on the supply, why would you ever suggest you had enough syrup for every pancake breakfast in New England or more bales than you could possibly fit in the barn?

That said, anyone who grows hay must have buried somewhere deep in their psyche an unlimited pool of optimism. After all, to even come close to turning a profit you have to not only get astoundingly lucky with the weather, but your expensive and finicky equipment has to work, the increasingly rare help has to show up when they said they would on the hottest day of the year and work dawn to dusk, and the customers have to not only take the hay they said they wanted but actually pay for it. The odds are better at a casino.

And then there are the foresters and loggers, who work in an industry in which you can’t even dream up all the things that can and will go wrong in the woods when trying to get a tree to market. This makes them among the most persistent and resourceful people in the world, and at the same time trains them to recognize that bad news is always just beyond the next tree. After all, it usually is.

But here’s the good news. The trees continue to grow. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but they grow year in, year out. A half a cord per acre per year, according to one generally accepted estimate—more in a well managed stand on a good site. Prices are never what landowners or loggers might want them to be, but in spite of pests and tornadoes and ice storms, overall the forests continue to add value. Growth.

Then there’s the bonus—even as those same forests add timber value, they also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities, none of which we currently acknowledge in economic terms.


At least that’s true as long as we can keep forests as forests. Parking lots are poor replacements by comparison.

Jack Savage is editor of Forest Notes magazine, published by the Society for the protection of New Hampshire Forests where he serves as VP for Communications and Outreach. He can be contacted at