Conversations with a Founder – Forest Management

During the process of researching the post on the potential benefits of logging, The Value of Seemingly Vile Activities, I learned a great deal about my own misgivings about the logging industry. I searched for the basis of my opposition, not to our need for wood products, but for my gut reaction of uneasiness at the mere idea of harvest in currently protected areas. I decided to talk with our founder, Dr. Robert H. Giles, Jr. about my personal discovery and learned something new about Rural System in the process.

Risa hugging a large, old tree in Snoqualmie National Forest

Me: Dr. Giles I think the basis of opposition to logging, or rather fear that people have about allowing selective cutting of old growth trees, etc., is that it’s hard to regulate. All too many times we’ve seen lumber companies take advantage of such an opportunity and overharvest in their zeal for profit. The result is the opposite of a diverse forest with mutual environmental and economic benefit and instead our forests disappear and our species, like the spotted owl, decline. I think this is why so many cannot accept the idea of managed harvest in protected areas……in fact it’s partly the reason we established “protected” areas in the first place. So if selective harvest is truly the best management practice for both humans and wildlife, how do we begin to trust companies if we implement it?

Dr. Giles: That’s a very good point and indeed a challenging aspect when there are multiple managing companies involved. In the proposed Rural System, the company would be in charge of managing huge tracts of land because we lump contiguous properties together by clustering (as discussed in Clustering: Creating Community in the Rural System). With one managing body, it is easier to ensure the same reasonable approach is used throughout.

Me: So what would the Rural System approach be specifically?

Dr. Giles: A comprehensive management plan which balances economic and environmental benefit requires restraint to achieve the goal of sustained profit and productivity over the long-term.

Me: So there’s that idea of being reasonable again?

Dr. Giles: Correct!

Me: It sounds like, in some cases, numerous companies (or a competitive market) can actually be a bad thing and that a singular managing body (or a monopoly) can ensure restraint?

Dr. Giles: That’s an interesting concept and in this case, yes that’s what I think.

Me: That’s very interesting because I think the default feeling is quite the opposite. We fear monopolies because they can do whatever they want. Although there are many examples of “good hearted” companies, there is always the risk of the next CEO changing things.

Dr. Giles: Yes, that is the concern. With Rural System, the idea of being reasonable isn’t idealistic because we’re not doing it simply because we are “good hearted” we do it because it achieves our overall financial goal of long-term profitability through daily restraint. Our technology allows us to weigh our options. In other words, it can tell us how much old growth we can take to create forest diversity without taking too much to impact particular species of concern like the spotted owl. The same goes for profits, the goal is to be able to project future fluctuations in the market value of wood and determine how much to take, or not to take, in order to stabilize profits over the long run.

Me: Essentially, Rural System proposes a “smart” financial goal backed by technology which projects far into the future with the understanding that optimal land use, or land management that mimics nature, ensures productivity and harmonious benefit for humans and nature over hundreds of years. Since this is a founding principle of the company and a path based in logical profits for success, you can say with confidence that any successors within the company (new CEOs, managers, etc.) will uphold this idea.

Dr. Giles: Yes, that is the goal and that idea would be in my mandate as founder.

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About Risa Pesapane

Risa is the Project Director for Rural System, Inc. and is an experienced research biologist and wildlife ecologist.


  1. Laurel Sindewald says:

    I love the Conversations with a Founder series! So far it has been spot-on
    in recording the clearest, most straight-forward version of Dr. Giles’s musings. This
    latest post is delightful.

  2. I like this. Of course, in a perfect world, the best forest management strategy is leave everything alone, make all forests wilderness areas, etc. But in this modern era, the next best thing must be some sort of compromise among parties involved. My university, Alabama A&M, is very interested in agri/cilviculture; even the burgeoning wildlife program, that I am a part of, is very interested in what effects land management practices have on faunal communities. It’s great to see that organizations are at least attempting to work these issues out responsibly, and that they’re restraining the uuber consumer tendency to maximize profits on the front-end. Developing sustainable harvesting strategies that– as you say– best simulate natural forest progression, would really the system on track. From a wildlife standpoint, I would really like to see further measures taken not only to maximize forest heterogeneity (and therefore, species diversity), but more so conserve forest interior species that suffer in edge-adjacent habitats.

    • Robert Giles says:

      Hello Iwo, thank you for your feedback! Interesting comment “In a perfect world…all forests are as wilderness.” This would forego all human benefits from wood harvest entirely. Achieving maximum forest diversity (as measured by one of the diversity indices such as Shannon) requires intensive management so that we have equal age classes of equal area within each forest types within a large area … tough to achieve even with modern mapping abilities. I once agreed that forest diversity would give us the animal (but not plant) diversity that various “biodiversity” laws and experts asserted we needed. However I’ve since re-examined the roles of wildfire due to lightning, the effects of the disappearance of bison, the importance of open water to so many species (insects, amphibians, and waterfowl), and the total count of edge-related vs. interior species. I now believe a very complex management scheme is needed if biodiversity is to remain a dominant land use objective.

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