Horselogger on Quest For Full Vigor

By David James

After 30 years of struggling with destructive logging practices and low pay in the commercial timber industry, Lee Crafton has a new hope in life.  He wants to see good forest management and a fair wage for his work, and he is on a 2,500 mile trek across the country with his team of Suffolk horses - to find it.

His current destination is a small family farm in SW Wisconsin.  "I have been reading the  website for two years now, and I have to go there and see it for myself," said Crafton, a cancer survivor  with a new appetite to live a full life.  "My motivation now is to see Timbergreen Farm.  I believe that they work in the way that forestry should be done.  They have a novel approach to making a good living as the landowner."

The Timbergreen website is a free 450 page extravaganza on how the Birkemeier family has turned their worn out dairy farm into one of the most productive and profitable forestry operations anywhere.  The book Full Vigor Forestry supplements the free website information with their common sense approach to sustainable forest management "from the forest owner's point of view."

"The best thing they are doing is they have made good forestry do-able for the average person," adds Crafton  "Everyone else says you have to be an "expert" - you must have a college forestry degree - to manage timber."

Full Vigor Forestry compares growing timber to other agricultural crops, or a vegetable garden.  Diversity of species, frequent thinning, and weeding are common sense principles that are easily applied to forest management.  "We grow each good tree for as long as it has vigorous diameter growth," says Full Vigor Forestry author Jim Birkemeier.  "Farmers wouldn't sell a healthy Holstein heifer to be ground up into hamburger, for a quick buck - just at the age where she can begin to produce a steady income for years to come.  But most people sell their timber as soon as it is merchantable, for that quick buck, and lose a good annual income potential for the future." 

At Timbergreen Farm, their annual harvest averages one tree per acre each year.  Their 200 acre forest is growing 100,000 board feet of sawtimber every year (25 full logging trucks), quadruple the average growth for the region.  The timber quality increases every year because they always harvest the worst tree first.

Birkemeier is a 1976 graduate of the UW - Madison with a B.S. degree in forestry.  "I began working as a consulting forester with other landowners, and was the first person in the area to represent forest owners when they sold their timber.  We began to mark the timber in advance and solicit competitive bids.  This quickly tripled the market price landowners were paid, but the logging was still disastrous.  I became totally disillusioned by the methods of the forestry profession and timber industry.  After a few years, I had to quit doing commercial timber sales.  We weren't doing forestry, we were just exploiting the forest and forest owner to subsidize the big timber mills."                            next