by Benjamin C. Jones | RGS & AWS President & CEO
Our RGS & AWS mission work is beautifully connected with the greater fabric of friends, family and communities. It’s true that in simplest terms we’re drawn together by reverence for ruffed grouse – not just your average bird, mind you, but the Ambassador, the Bellwether, the King! Yet this enterprise connects us in so many more ways.
This was brought home for me quite literally over the past several months.
Our family is stewarding a homestead that dates back to the late 1800s. We are only the second family with this responsibility recorded on the deed. The legacy of past overseers is everywhere, from the woodshed where foxes and otters were skinned, to the woodlots where wildlife shrubs were planted and pruned. In the middle stands a bank barn.
Replacing the matriarch’s floor had been in my curator queue, but keeping up with wildlife habitat got priority status. Alas, my priorities count for a fifth in our family, and my oldest daughter, Delia, was planning a barn dance to celebrate her 18th birthday. The time had come to replace the old poplar planks with a sturdier surface. Habitat work, at least on our farm, would have to wait.
The first step was finding wood for the project. I put in a call to my longtime hunting partner and forestry colleague Mark Knapp. Mark and I grew up hunting together, and later studied forestry and raised our families together. If anyone would understand the significance of the project while also knowing how to obtain a load of rough-sawn lumber, it would be Mark. After a few calls, we were in business. Network engaged.
We made contact with Pepper Logging, a family business that, in addition to logging, operates a small sawmill. The Peppers are an entrepreneurial family deeply connected with the forest and their community. Generations of Peppers have worked in the woods. As it turned out, they had larch lumber available from a very interesting project.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) employed millions of young American men during the Great Depression. The billions of seedlings these conservation front runners planted stabilized the soil, and provided wildlife cover for decades. Over time, though, the plantations grew, and true to the dynamic nature of forests, aging trees now shade the plants beneath. RGS & AWS encourages landowners to harvest mature plantations, including the larch trees on a tract of state land just a stone’s throw from where I grew up.
Nearly 90 years to the day from the CCC’s founding, the area habitat managers saw fit to include the mature larches in a timber sale, setting the stage for habitat rejuvenation. Ruffed grouse are among the intended beneficiaries. Now lumber from these trees, planted by early conservationists and recently cut by a woods-working family, was destined for our farm.
We spent many chilly November evenings after work and school heaving, squaring and hammering boards into place. Finally, we stood on weary legs and gazed with satisfaction across fresh dimensional lumber fastened to old hand-hewn beams. The connection (that this wood came from a cover I’d hunted myself as a teenager) was not lost on Delia. She and I will hunt the new growth in coming autumn seasons. The barn party was a great success. We celebrated a fine young woman’s promotion to adulthood, along with the recent news of her college acceptance. Her course of study? Forestry and wildlife management.