Festival Celebrates Bounty Of Appalachian Forests

Just as families are an integral part of our society, so are forests an especially important and central part of our environment. How fitting, then, to combine the two in a festive outdoor event celebrating the interaction of people and nature?

Appalachian Voices did just that, teaming up with other non-profit and local governmental agencies, to create the Forest & Family Festival 2001. The event took place last month on the grassy grounds of Sugar Grove, N.C.’s Historic Cove Creek School, a charming stone structure erected in the early 1920s and now undergoing renovations that bring it into the alternative energy era. The grounds overlook a creek, farm buildings and pasturelands, and served as a day-long home for children and adults interested in paying their respects to the land.

The day consisted of special activities designed to highlight our inter-dependence on the woodlands of the Southern Appalachians; speakers educated folks about ecological forestry and conservation easements. James Coman, of the Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust, and John Humphrey, of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, answered questions about streambed preservation and future planning. Barbara and Tomm Tomlinson, of Wild-Haven Inc., displayed a few of the many owls, raptors, hawks and other birds of prey that they rehabilitate after injury.

Kevin Caldwell, of Appalachian Ecological Consultants, and Berkeley Brown of the Mast Farm Inn, lead botanical identification hikes, and David Hagaman enlisted the help of his Belgian and Percheron horses in a horse-logging demonstration to teach low-impact methods of tree removal.

Children’s activities, live music, special workshops, unique mountain heritage crafts and non-profit organizations peppered the day with fun, educational events. The sponsoring organizations (Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Program, Cove Creek Preservation, USDA Natural Resource Conservation, Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council, and Appalachian Voices) marked the day as a success and were pleased with the turn-out, the sunny weather, and the strides made in bringing an ecological awareness to our communities.

Sustainable Forestry Demo

Sustainable Forestry is a term that encompasses so much more than simply the act of removing timber. Trees are the most visual component of a forest and they are crucial to the continuous working mechanism of an ecosystem: they respirate, replenish the soil, clean the water, provide shade, guard against erosion, provide habitat, and swap chemical compounds with each other and with other plants. Trees also provide a rich source of material for humans: wood for building and fuel, pulp for paper, leaves for mulch, resins and buds for medicines and cosmetics, flowers for perfumery and enjoyment, and much more.

There is no doubt that people need trees, and that we will continue to need them indefinitely. How we go about extracting them from the forest that has created them is a matter, unfortunately, of debate, and needs careful consideration.

Low-impact methods are preferable. The lowest impact method, obviously, is to walk into the forest with a saw, cut a relatively small tree , cut it into sections, hoist each section onto the shoulder and haul them out manually, one at a time. This, of course, is time-consuming and physically hard. A more efficient method is to employ horses and limited equipment which can cut and remove entire trees and large lengths at a fraction of the cost, and much more quickly. Horses can maneuver with agility through the woods and leave little trace of their passing.

Contrast this with high-impact forestry, in which huge machines trammel the forest floor, trees are slashed with no consideration for neighboring trees or saplings, roads are dredged through the woods, creeks are ruined or sullied, and ecosystem boundaries are left with gaps. The timber is out, but what is left?

The worst method of all is the clearcut, even the patch-cut. Timber industry giants try to maintain that clearcuts are not that bad, since the forest will eventually grow back. They’ll point to an ugly clearcut and say that the forest will return even healthier. What forest? And in whose lifetime?

This method begs the question of timing: the economic return for a landowner is often a top reason for utilizing timber. It is important to recognize that maintaining a steady supply of timber is much more financially worthwhile than earning a lump sum and then being forced to wait 50-60 years for another harvest.

Rachel Wood, of Wood Resource Group in Asheville, estimates that the monetary amounts can be similar. In other words, the lump sum from a large harvest might be close to the steady, long-term income supplied by smaller harvests at shorter intervals. But, she points out, the health of the forest is a key issue. The health of the forest bulldozed for instant cash is substantially inferior to the health of the well-managed forest, something heirs or real estate investors will greatly appreciate.

Not Just Wood

As any botanist will tell you (and as Kevin Caldwell told many at the Forest & Family Festival), the understory herbaceous layer of the forest is the woodland’s gem. These small plants intermingle with the fungi and microbacteria on the forest floor to create chemical and human wealth. Springtime black cohosh and lacy sweet cicely are budding from the earth; wild oats are already dropping dainty yellow bells, and fiery oranges and reds are coloring the woods that will later dazzle with blues and purples, and then whites.

Not surprisingly, the craft and medicine industries make quite a profit off plants gathered (legally or illegally) from Appalachian forests. These Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) include medicinal and edible herbs, water, guano, soil, honey, fibers, vines, stone and rock, clay, paints/dyes/pigments, mushrooms, and a multitude of materials for artwork and jewelry. The economic impact is difficult to measure, since many of these materials are collected by independent cottage-industry crafters and small businesses. This aspect of forestry was illustrated at Appalachian Voices’ Forest & Family Festival by a variety of vendors: craftsmen demonstrated beekeeping, basketry, candlemaking, quilting, walking sticks, beadwork/jewelry, medicinal herbalism, chair caning, specialty foods, pottery, children’s toys, painting/drawing, wreathwork, picture framing, and more.

Keeping natural materials and money made from these materials is a primary component of sustainability; communities do well with local crafts and local trade. Resources generated on a local scale are lucrative on a local scale, and offer a cycle to a community that cannot be tapped through national or international industry.


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