At home in the belly of the beast.Len Lankford makes private forestry work in an area dominated by public forests and the sprawl of subdivisions.
WILDFIRE IS BURNING in the Wet Mountain Valley. I smell the smoke before I see it. If I were alone here, I might be glad for a good purging burn: We're a century or so overdue. But three generations of the Wolfs are here for a family reunion Often an annual event, a family reunion takes place on a specified day each year for the purpose of keeping an extended family closer together. Some reunions may be held less often. at our cabin, part of a typical Colorado subdivision nestled into dense ponderosa pine ponderosa pine
pinusponderosa. and oak brush. Just a few steps west of us, the San Carlos San Carlos (săn kär`lōs), residential city (1990 pop. 26,167), San Mateo co., W Calif.; inc. 1925. The chief manufactures are plastic products, hardware, and machine parts. District of the San Isabel National Forest San Isabel National Forest is located in central Colorado. The forest contains 19 of the states 54 fourteeners, peaks over 14,000 feet high, including Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. stretches up through dog-haired, insect-infested stands of Douglas-fir, white fir, lodgepole pine lodgepole pine, common name for the pine species Pinus contorta, found in the Rocky Mts. and the northwestern coast of the United States. , sub-alpine fir, and Engelmann spruce Noun 1. Engelmann spruce - tall spruce of Rocky Mountains and British Columbia with blue-green needles and acutely conic crown; wood used for rough lumber and boxes
Engelmann's spruce, Picea engelmannii
spruce - any coniferous tree of the genus Picea : the crooked timber Crooked Timber is a widely-read political blog run by a group of (mostly) academics from and working in several different nations, including the USA, the UK, Ireland, Australia and Singapore. of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains Sangre de Cristo Mountains (săng`grē də krĭs`tō), part of the S Rocky Mts., extending c.220 mi (350 km) from S central Colo. into N central N.Mex. .
From the porch of our cabin, everyone from grandmother to grandchildren gapes at a spectacle unseen in three generations: Dense, gray columns of smoke rise over the next ridge to the north, maybe three miles away--and upwind. After a wet winter, a hot, dry, long-winded June has raved on into July without any letup let·up
1. A reduction in pace, force, or intensity; a slowdown.
2. A temporary stop; a pause.
Noun 1. . In place of the usual afternoon thunderheads, burly black spurts of smoke rain fine soot on us. Must be the big white firs, incandescing. Could the Sangres be the only forests in Colorado where there are solid stands of super-flammable white fir? Silently, I review the relationship between our white firs, our escape routes, and the fire lines I have cut. Good enough for these conditions? As my sassy sas·sy 1
adj. sas·si·er, sas·si·est
1. Rude and disrespectful; impudent.
2. Lively and spirited; jaunty.
3. Stylish; chic: a sassy little hat. nieces say, "Tom, I don't think so!"
A big slurry bomber rumbles into the valley for a drop. To reassure ourselves, my nephew Cedar and I drive over for a look-see. I am working on an environmental history of these forests, and my research on the San Isabel tells me that fires set by Indians or caused by lightning swept this elevation every five to 12 years, leaving behind a few big ponderosas, open grasslands, very little mature oak brush, and almost no big white fir. When the Forest Service took over around 1905, the first generation of Europeans had already cut or burned most of the accessible timber. Almost a century of grazing, fire suppression, and insect infestations have resulted in heavily stocked, multi-storied stands, especially rich in leggy leggy
said of animals that appear to have legs longer than normal for the species, breed and age. scrub oak, dead and down fuels, and torch-like 60-foot white firs.
As we race toward the fire, we overtake another unusual sight for these parts: a loaded logging truck. Thirteen-year-old Cedar hails from the big-timber country of the Pacific Northwest. Like his cousins, he likes to bait his uncle, and his hormonal system seems to have kicked in on schedule: "Geez geez
Used to express mild surprise, delight, dissatisfaction, or annoyance.
[Shortening and alteration of Jesus1.] ," he says, "Look at those little trees Little Trees (US) are disposable air fresheners in the shape of an abstract evergreen tree, marketed for use in cars. They are made of a material very similar to beer coasters and are produced in a variety of colours and scents. ! Back home, we'd use them for kindling kindling (kinˑ·dling),
n change in brain function wherein repeated chemical or electrical stimuli induce seizures.
1. parturition in the doe rabbit. ! Or we wouldn't bother to cut them. I didn't think you even had loggers here."
Some loggers we definitely have. More importantly, though, we have a forester--a private consulting forester. Len Lankford and his family are our neighbors here in the Wet Mountain Valley. They live a few miles away--downwind from us and from today's fire. Between them and us lie many acres of private, heavily forested lands like ours, former dry ranchlands now broken into subdivisions. Like ours, these lands border the half of Colorado that is public land. Unlike ours, and unlike the public land, these private forests are intensively managed by Lankford Foresters, Inc., for sawtimber, firewood, transplants, and Christmas trees. The luxuriant luxuriant /lux·u·ri·ant/ (lug-zhoor´e-ant) growing freely or excessively. , long-needled white fir make especially valuable Christmas trees. Aspen, ponderosa, and blue spruce blue spruce
A Rocky Mountain tree (Picea pungens) having silvery-blue or blue-green, four-angled, needlelike leaves and cylindrical cones. It is extensively cultivated as an ornamental. Also called Colorado blue spruce. bring top dollar as transplants in the naturally treeless, nearby Front Range cities like rapidly growing Denver, Colorado Springs Colorado Springs, city (1990 pop. 281,140), seat of El Paso co., central Colo., on Monument and Fountain creeks, at the foot of Pikes Peak; inc. 1886. It is a year-round resort and a booming military, technological, and commercial city. , and Pueblo.
If the federal government is, as many locals think, Leviathan leviathan (lēvī`əthən), in the Bible, aquatic monster, presumably the crocodile, the whale, or a dragon. It was a symbol of evil to be ultimately defeated by the power of good. , then Lankford is at home in the belly of the beast. Since 1975 he has made a living in an unlikely way. He is a successful private consulting forester in a setting dominated overwhelmingly by government forestry. For years, as I drove along the Front Range or up from Santa Fe Santa Fe, city, Argentina
Santa Fe, city (1991 pop. 341,000), capital of Santa Fe prov., NE Argentina, a river port near the Paraná, with which it is connected by canal. to the Sangre de Cristos, I kept seeing green-and-white signs announcing: Lankford Foresters, Inc.--Tree Farm.
Initially, I thought it was a joke. First of all, most people know you can get low-cost forestry advice from the Colorado State Forest The Colorado State Forest is a 71,000 acres (0 km) forest located in Jackson County in the U.S. state of Colorado. Trees in the Colorado State Forest include Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir in areas of higher elevation, and Service. Second, sawtimber prices have been depressed for years, air-quality concerns discourage woodburning, and the government practically gives away firewood. If you have brains and private, forested land, you grow subdivisions, not traditional wood products. Somebody else can grow commercial wood, preferably somewhere else. Somebody else can worry about the next fires.
When I called Lankford to find out if he was for real, he turned out to be a neighbor. I went over to visit at the home Lankford and his wife Martha built for themselves and their three children. It's the kind of place where you feel that the owners have lovingly cultivated, cut, milled, and finished every board. Do foresters grow to resemble the trees they manage? It happens. Lankford is tall and lanky, just like the ponderosas he nurtures. Behind his easy-going eas·y·go·ing also eas·y-go·ing
a. Living without undue worry or concern; calm.
b. Lax or negligent; careless.
c. , downhome style is a belief in forest management buttressed by a fierce work ethic work ethic
A set of values based on the moral virtues of hard work and diligence.
a belief in the moral value of work and a master's degree master's degree
An academic degree conferred by a college or university upon those who complete at least one year of prescribed study beyond the bachelor's degree.
Noun 1. in forestry from Yale.
We went out on some of the Lankford Tree Farms near my land. From time to time in our subdivision, we lose trophy ponderosa to bark beetles, porcupines Noun 1. porcupines - meat patties rolled in rice and simmered in a tomato sauce
meatball - ground meat formed into a ball and fried or simmered in broth , mistletoe mistletoe, common name for the Loranthaceae, a family of chiefly tropical hemiparasitic herbs and shrubs with leathery evergreen leaves and waxy white berries. They have green leaves, but they manufacture only part of the nutrients they require. , and the Sangres' winds, which a week before this is written demolished my biggest, most beautiful tree: a 250-year-old, 100-foot ponderosa. With that kind of natural loss, many of us balk balk
the action of a horse when it refuses to obey a command to which it usually responds. See also jibbing. at cutting any live tree for any reason. People who spend their working days at computer consoles wince when a chainsaw whines. People get huffy about E. J. Camp, the loner loner Psychiatry A single young man estranged from society and family, who suffers from psychogenic pain, and tends to live 'on the edge', vacillating between aggression and depression; loners often have unrealistic goals, but are unable to work towards those goals down the road who runs a little one-man sawmill sawmill, installation or facility in which cut logs are sawed into standard-sized boards and timbers. The saws used in such an installation are generally of three types: the circular saw, which consists of a disk with teeth around its edge; the band saw, which , one of only two working mills left within 50 miles. People dislike the Colorado State Forester's advice: Thin to diminish ground fuels; limb to erase "ladders" that can lead a fire into the canopy.
"If you do what those so-called foresters say," one neighbor warned, "all you have left is a lot dotted with telephone poles. I bought my land because I love trees."
Lankford also loves trees. "But I love forests more," he said. "The Forest Service will not or cannot manage in these mixed conifer conifer (kŏn`ĭfûr) [Lat.,=cone-bearing], tree or shrub of the order Coniferales, e.g., the pine, monkey-puzzle tree, cypress, and sequoia. Most conifers bear cones and most are evergreens, though a few, such as the larch, are deciduous. stands because they operate on too grand a scale. Their appraisal system is regionwide, so they aren't sensitive to local markets the way I have to be. If they were proactive here at the public/private interface, they would offer sales that make ecological and economic sense, regardless of boundaries. They could deal with their fire problems and encourage entrepreneurs. If their living depended on good forestry, they would learn what I learned. These forests look worthless, but they will respond to good management."
The result of the Forest Service's inability to do local management, Lankford says, is that in the past, most private owners either ignored their forests or allowed cutters to high-grade the best trees with no forester input, no slash disposal, no insect and mistletoe management, and no stump policy. On the San Isabel National Forest, at least, the results are not much better than on private land.
Lankford works on a commission basis, managing for sustained yield. He helped the Colorado Forestry Association and the Colorado Tree Farming Committee lobby the state legislature for a Forest Agriculture Act, which he jokingly calls "the Foresters' Employment Act." Under the Act, landowners with 40 acres or more and a state-approved, forester-designed management plan qualify for the same low ag-tax rates as ranchers and farmers. In a second-home-driven market like Colorado's, the tax-dollar difference can be as significant as the ecological difference on the ground. One client with 500 acres saves $25,000 per year. Another was the 1990 Tree Farmer of the Year.
My patron saint is Thomas the Doubter, least of the Twelve Apostles, the kind of guy who insisted on empirical verification even when faced with the risen Christ. So Lankford invited me on a more extensive tour. We started on the east face of the Wet Mountains, west of Pueblo. Working for a family trust, Lankford manages a section of land called Adobe Creek, which drains the San Isabel Forest lands known as the Wet Mountains on three sides, and provides municipal water for the town of Florence. The family means to subdivide TO SUBDIVIDE. To divide a part of a thing which has already been divided. For example, when a person dies leaving children, and grandchildren, the children of one of his own who is dead, his property is divided into as many shares as he had children, including the deceased, and the share this land eventually. Lankford has designed protective covenants containing phrases unusual for Colorado: "The intent of these covenants is to preserve Adobe Creek as an exclusive, high-quality residential and working forestry and agricultural area of lasting value."
Always skeptical, I had recruited San Carlos District Ranger Cindy Rivera and District Silviculturist Mike Smith to visit Adobe Creek with us. Since I like stacked decks, my additional interest was in yet another forest visitor, recently found foraging here--the Mexican spotted owl, freshly listed as an Endangered Species endangered species, any plant or animal species whose ability to survive and reproduce has been jeopardized by human activities. In 1999 the U.S. government, in accordance with the U.S. . Nearby Pueblo is the national headquarters of the Wise Use Movement, which has set its sights on the Endangered Species Act The federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) (16 U.S.C.A. §§ 1531 et seq.) was enacted to protect animal and plant species from extinction by preserving the ecosystems in which they survive and by providing programs for their conservation. . I was curious about the fuss over government "takings without just compensation" on private property. If the owls should nest on Adobe Creek, Lankford would have himself some dubious allies and some major problems.
Though they had some concerns about wildfire potential, Rivera and Smith liked the intensive forestry we saw at Adobe Creek. I liked it too, and so did the contractor who was cutting and hauling Lankford's straight-grained timber to his one-man, custom mill far out east on the plains. So did the owls, which do not conform to our stereotype of them as old-growth-dependent. They may nest in what passes here for old-growth (100-year-old inland Douglas-fir), but they forage in Lankford's intensively managed forests, and in nearby pinyon-juniper.
The owl's potent presence has contributed to a virtual standstill in local federal forestry. Whether the two are related or not, there has been a recent tripling of local timber prices from $40 to $120 per thousand board-feet. (A recent high-altitude spruce sale went for $250/mbf.) For the first time in years, sawtimber is paying better than firewood. In spite of the 200-mile round-trip haul distance, industry giant Stone Container Corporation is buying private timber over here. Mill manager Mike Duncan told me that changes in Forest Service policies and Stone's investment in a new kiln had made their stud operation hungry for private timber of the quality found at Adobe Creek. I thought my Forest Service friends--now committed to the new policy of Ecosystem Management--seemed a little jealous of Lankford.
It took a few more stops to convince me that private forestry can pay in Colorado. For years Lankford has been peppering Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Elizabeth Estill and Colorado State Forester Jim Hubbard with complaints about government firewood-pricing policies, especially in the Black Forest area between Denver and Colorado Springs. He has gotten nowhere. The government folks are polite, but you get the sense that they wish the pesky Lankford would go away. They seem more interested in the recreational aspects of personal-use firewood sales than in making money.
Continuing the tour, I found Lankford at work when I visited my friends Herb and Karen Marchman on their 36 acres of ponderosa woodlands. Karen is an avid horsewoman, Herb a sharp businessman. Because their land is just under the 40-acre limit for Forest Ag status, the Marchmans hired Lankford to make them money off their existing forests, and to help evaluate the decision to buy an additional 76 acres.
Colorado's 192,000-acre Black Forest has puzzled ecologists for years. It is perfectly positioned to catch the upslope summer storms from the Gulf of Mexico Noun 1. Gulf of Mexico - an arm of the Atlantic to the south of the United States and to the east of Mexico
Golfo de Mexico
Atlantic, Atlantic Ocean - the 2nd largest ocean; separates North and South America on the west from Europe and Africa on the east . Underlain un·der·lain
Past participle of underlie. by impermeable impermeable /im·per·me·a·ble/ (-per´me-ah-b'l) not permitting passage, as of fluid.
Impossible to permeate; not permitting passage. sandstones, the Black Forest is a very good--if improbable--place to grow trees. Just north of the Air Force Academy, it points east toward Kansas for mile after mile, a long, 7,500-foot-high ponderosa peninsula awash in rolling grasslands. During Colorado's gold rush from 1858 through 1875, 16 sawmills operated here simultaneously. The pioneers clearcut the Black Forest, leaving second- and third-growth for today's developers and subdividers--and for people like the Marchmans, who wish to maintain and enhance their land's economic and ecological values.
Herb Marchman hiked along with his grandson on his shoulders. We followed Lankford into a forest setting different from anything I had seen before. Lankford's cutters had been at work the previous day, but where was the slash? Where were the stumps?
"Karen wants to ride horses through her forests," said Lankford, "so my cutters vaporize va·por·ize
To convert or be converted into a vapor.
To dissolve solid material or convert it into smoke or gas. the slash--reduce it to chips no bigger than a half-inch; anything bigger than that, they take for kindling. The remains they scatter. They aren't finished until stumps are at ground level."
What a government forester might call a pre-commercial thinning, Lankford treats as an opportunity for full utilization. Since he isn't managing here for straight, insect- and mistletoe-free stumpage stump·age
1. Standing timber regarded as a commodity.
2. The value of standing timber.
3. The right to cut standing timber.
1. , he can play around with some interesting tree shapes. Since his long-term goal is visual variety before sawtimber, he does not equate size with value. Snowbent and otherwise "malformed mal·formed
Abnormally or faultily formed. " character trees grow out their twisted lives in peace.
"Conventional Colorado forestry minimizes genetic diversity," Lankford says. "People pretend to select for supertrees. Beauty doesn't always come with big, straight trees. I think of myself as a sculptor, cutting to release interesting trees." Lankford leaves ample snags for wildlife. He simply ignores conventional wisdom about snags and character trees as ladder fuels for fires. Where there are ongoing pine-beetle or mistletoe infestations, he cuts quite severely, releasing smaller trees.
The Marchmans are pleased with his work. "We get some cash flow off our land," Herb Marchman told me, "and we have something of real value to leave to our grandchildren, with an additional break on estate taxes if we decide to buy more land and go the Forest Ag route."
The Lankford forestry tour made a final stop at Bent Tree, an upscale Black Forest subdivision. They say that no forester lives to account for his mistakes. Lankford has been at work here since 1979. He inherited the Colorado State Forest Service's vintage 1975 handiwork, which left an unhappy developer holding 2.5-acre lots that resemble phonepole plantations.
Homesites here might go for $50,000. Buyers generally want the same things: smashing views of nearby Pikes Peak, along with trees to give privacy. The right combination can add tens of thousands of dollars to a lot's value. Operating with 800 acres and view easements EASEMENTS, estates. An easement is defined to be a liberty privilege or advantage, which one man may have in the lands of another, without profit; it may arise by deed or prescription. Vide 1 Serg. & Rawle 298; 5 Barn. & Cr. 221; 3 Barn. & Cr. 339; 3 Bing. R. 118; 3 McCord, R. , Lankford had his work cut out for him. "People don't want to look at each other's $500,000 houses down viewsheds that look like bowling alleys," Lankford says. "They pay to see Pikes Peak, not each other."
Lankford became a landscape architect as well as a forester. His employer, the developer, was acutely unhappy with the results of earlier management. So Lankford started a shelterwood system that would meet all his aesthetic and firewood goals. It also would eventually allow the canopy to re-close and provide habitat for the beautiful, tassel-eared Abert's squirrel, which is specific to ponderosa forests.
"I learned to play with trees and move them around," Lankford said. To ensure adequate stock, he convinced the developer to set aside in perpetuity Of endless duration; not subject to termination.
The phrase in perpetuity is often used in the grant of an Easement to a utility company.
in perpetuity adj. forever, as in one's right to keep the profits from the land in perpetuity. 18 acres of open land, which he runs as a tree farm. Stock from the tree farm provides Lankford with the kinds of bushy bush·y
adj. bush·i·er, bush·i·est
1. Overgrown with bushes.
2. Thick and shaggy: a bushy head of hair. transplants people like. Chipped slash provides mountains of mulch.
Government foresters just shake their heads. "Lankford breaks most of the rules," one told me, "but I envy his willingness to experiment and his ability to sell forestry to clients." Without the nervous monkey of public forestry standards on his back, Lankford has only his customers--and his own strong love of forests--to please.
In pursuit of other perspectives, I contacted Jim Hubbard, the Colorado state forester. Hubbard referred me to Tom Osterman, his spokesman on issues involving Colorado's Forest Ag legislation. Osterman was formerly the district forester in the Black Forest area. He is presently supervisor of the forest-management division, with responsibility for certifying landowners seeking to qualify their properties under Forest Ag. He has been with Len Lankford on many properties, and the two worked together to get Forest Ag passed.
Colorado counties depend on property taxes, which fund schools, roads, and other services. At the urban-wildlands interface typical of Colorado's Front Range, desperate county assessors find themselves constantly behind in their task of generating enough money to keep up with development. For their part, landowners face disincentives to keep land open and to practice good stewardship. Unless they can qualify for much lower agricultural rates, they are likely to be slapped with prohibitively high taxes at development rates.
In the past, landowners could retain ag status only by grazing cattle. Because many of them were not full-time ranchers, this often led to land abuse. For landowners with forested property, forced grazing rarely led to good forest management. All that began to change in 1990 with passage of the Forest Ag Act. The Act required the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS CSFs
colony-stimulating factors. ) to certify and to annually inspect properties being managed under an approved long-range forest-management plana designed to produce wood products.
Regarding Forest Ag, Osterman said that its effect on the CSFS has been minimal: "But its effect on good forest stewardship has been gradual and positive."
At first, county assessors felt that there was potential for abuse, so CSFS was slow to promote the program. Now the program has grown year by year from 20 landowners to more than 100 in 1993. Acreage varies from the minimum of 40 to 100,000.
"A forest-management plan must fulfill the intent of the law," Osterman sad. "It must produce forest products--not simply serve as a tax dodge for someone with forested land. We take a hard-nosed approach to make sure the law is not abused."
Osterman is quite familiar with the Black Forest's Bent Tree subdivision. It represented a classic double bind. "Before Forest Ag, development became a self-fulfilling prophecy self-fulfilling prophecy, a concept developed by Robert K. Merton to explain how a belief or expectation, whether correct or not, affects the outcome of a situation or the way a person (or group) will behave. ," Osterman said. Bent Tree had qualified for ag-tax status because it was grazed. However, CSFS felt that the level of grazing was too hard on the land, so it recommended reductions. Those reductions lowered revenues, so the owners stopped grazing. Then the county assessor reclassified the land for development. This resulted in a huge tax increase that forced development--even though CSFS testified on Bent Tree's behalf in an appeal of the assessor's decision.
Unlike Lankford, Osterman does not see much conflict between private consulting foresters and CSFS. He feels that the state's lower stumpage and firewood prices reflect the larger volumes with which it typically deals. "We try to work with private forestry and natural-resource consultants--not against them," he said. "We often refer landowners to consultants."
Osterman noted that the number of private consultants has risen from less than 10 to 26 since 1990. "But Lankford is the only one who has voiced concerns about our pricing policies." Osterman says that Lankford's pricing can become quite complex, while the state depends on a simpler regionwide system. However, he did remark, "Thee bottom line is that Lankford gets his clients better prices for their forest products than either the feds or the state."