2015 NorCal/SoCal Society of American Foresters (SAF) Winter Meeting

Forest Management : Effects on Climate Change

23 – 24 January 2015

This past Friday and Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the NorCal/SoCal Winter meeting of the Society of American Foresters (SAF).  I am a student member of the High Sierra Chapter.

For those not familiar with the Society of American Foresters, it is, definitionally, “the national scientific and educational organization representing the forestry profession in the United States” with a mission to ” to advance the science, education, technology, and practice of forestry; to enhance the competency of its members; to establish professional excellence; and, to use the knowledge, skills, and conservation ethic of the profession to ensure the continued health and use of forest ecosystems and the present and future availability of forest resources to benefit society.”  In more generic language, it is an organization of forestry professionals that keeps members abreast of the industry-related issues, involves members in advising the public and government on forestry practices, and provides for networking among forestry-centric individuals.  SAF is broken down into state societies, and California has two.  So, this meeting was a joining of the the NorCal and SoCal societies to discuss the topic of climate change within the context of forestry.

Friday 23 January

On Friday, a few of the students from our chapter sat in on the Executive Committee Meeting.  It was a great opportunity to a get a look inside how SAF operates and the issues that come into play in the governance of the body.  And also gave insight into just how much the organization does in educational efforts, fundraising, governmental work, etc.  Much more than I had realized.

That afternoon we had a field tour of Pacific Coast Lumber, which is a lumber mill that uses recycled wood to make wood products.  They are a leader in recycling “green waste” – in other words, they repurpose wood that would have otherwise been burned or taken to a landfill.  As the owner said, “the way I look at it, like oil…if we use less now, we have more later.”  Even shavings and saw dust have a purpose as ground cover for avocado fields and material for fuel pellets.

We got to look at some of the products they make, which included these cabin / sheds that I day dreamed as a future home.  They also gave us a demonstration of their Wood-Mizer Sawmill that can saw down logs to very thin boards, which adds aesthetic value to the products they make.  They experiment in other aesthetic accents as well, including leaving portions of the bark on boards.  At the end we also got a peak inside their heating kiln which dries out the wood faster than it would do naturally.

IMG_2146That evening there was a Forester / Student pub social, which provided the students an opportunity to interface with forester professionals.  We had an early night since the Saturday discussion panels began early, so after the pub, a few of us stayed at a fellow students’ parents home (most graciously provided, and helped us poor college students evade the hotel cost).

Saturday 24 January

Before the panels began, we got a sunrise look at San Luis Obispo (the location for this winter meeting).   Then, from 0800 – 1700 we had a series of talks on topics that spoke of climate change from the forestry perspective.  Topics included the process of forestry carbon sequestration projects (carbon credits), the effect of fuel reduction in reducing carbon emissions, the influence of urban forestry on greenhouse gas emissions, how grazing plays a role in the carbon emissions on forested land, etc.

Some of the more interesting notes I jotted down from the various panel speakers:

  • 56% of forested land in the United States is privately owned, so it is hard to say how much climate-related government policy about forest management will help with carbon emissions
  • Urban forestry (planting the right tree in the right urban space) can have the following benefits: shade a building (leads to less frequent AC use), increase water vapor & cloudiness, provide direct sunlight absorption (again reducing AC use), reduce the heat island effect (cities without trees / greenery tend to be warmer on daily average), provide carbon storage (trees take in and store carbon), improve air quality, limit storm-water runoff, provide windbreak, provide a sound & visual screen, and improve the overall psychological health of the local populace.
  • In elemental weight, wood is 50% carbon
  • Although grazing land is often demonized in the eyes of environmentalist, keeping ranchland open to grazing can actually enhance the conservation potential of the land via the stewardship of the ranch owners

(I wrote many other things down, but I’ll stop here because this post is already getting lengthy.)

During the lunch break I got to speak with a retired forester who was originally from Scotland.  When he began working as a forester there, his work was primarily focused on tree planting because Britain had become so deforested.  He then worked for the Canadian Forest Service for a while before settling in California.  I loved hearing his life story and all the places forestry had taken him.  Best of all was seeing how much passion he still has for forestry, and all the fondness he had for the memories of his journey through forestry which he told to me with a glint in his eye and smile on his face.  The meeting has been full of wonderful exchanges like this with those who have been in the industry for many years, which was a great opportunity for us students.

There was an awards component to the meeting as well.  The SAF chapter I am associated with won chapter-of-the-year award (well done guys) for all the outreach, fundraising, and educational efforts they were dedicated to throughout the year.  Among other awards, was the recognition of those who had been members of SAF for 50 years.  One of these award recipients spoke of his career and the benefits of being in SAF, but towards the end of his speech, directing his words specifically towards us students in the crowd, he said:

“In the 40 years I was a practicing forester, I think there were only 3 or 4 days that I didn’t look forward to putting on my boots and going to work – the pay off is huge.”

What an encouragement that is to someone like me just starting out in this industry.  I hope I have just a few days that I don’t look forward to putting my boots on.


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