Reaching Back

Written by Ross Morgan, September 2019.

In the first few years of the Forest Stewards Guild, members used quotes from Josef Kostler’s book, Silviculture, to stimulate thought and ideas for the forming organization.  The discussions that led to articulating our principles and mission have some roots in these quotes. Kostler was a Bavarian forester, as was his father, and he was a silviculture professor at the University of Munich. References that the author uses for this book date from the late 1800’s.  By reaching back into the history of the forestry movement in Central Europe, we were hoping to gain insight into our long-term professional assignment–into who we are and how we could direct our own future.

Central to my understanding of this assignment, then and now, is found where Kostler quotes Forester Ammon about a hundred years ago.

The marking of the trees to be exploited is undoubtedly the most important task of all, the true central function of the professional forester. …..Someone who has the making of a forester…. finds in the task of marking great professional satisfaction, more especially when permitted to follow out the development of forests and their constant improvement over a matter of decades. 

Here Kostler reveals the keystone in the forestry movement, the foot soldier in the process, the field forester who decides what is to be retained in the stand, and what is to be harvested for use.  Policy, research, understanding of economics and of the complexity of forest ecology can all be in place, but if there is not a forester in the woods, who decides and marks the trees in a silvicultural regime with consideration for ecological functions, the forestry work is set back, often for many decades.  The forester’s decisions bring a carefully planned silviculture to fruition for society.  Yes, any silviculture is an intrusion into the forest, but it is calibrated as carefully as humans can; that is our assignment.

After the first meeting in Santa Fe in 1995, a bulletin was produced which contained many quotes inspired by our first introduction circles and discussions by those thirty participants; here are a few:

Robert Hrubes said, “I want to see an organization created out of this.  I want to be part of an organization that reflects my values.”

Charlie Moreno is quoted, “I regard the conference as a ‘watershed’ event in my career.  Beyond the intellectual exchange, it was an affirmation of the deeply held beliefs about working with the forest.”

Fred White wrote “We need to recognize that this is a fringe group.  At the same time, we should not underestimate the power of such a group to leverage change.”

Jim Greig stated, “If you start with a virgin old growth stand, there is nothing you can do to enhance ecosystem function.”  He also said, “The practice of silviculture becomes an art.”

By offering these quotes, from Kostler, who taught generations of European foresters, to Jim Greig, who influenced many younger California foresters, I am encouraging you to reach back twenty-five or more than a hundred years, to see who we were and consider who we can become.