• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Sustainable Logging in New Mexico

Air Date: Week of

A tract of forest owned and managed by Boy Scouts gets some special handling. This and other success stories are described by Deborah Begel reporting from New Mexico on a number of small-scale foresters who are practicing logging in an economically and environmentally beneficial manner.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. All around the world, people are seeking more sustainable ways to use our natural resources. Middle paths between devastation and preservation. One such person is Harry Morrison. He's a New Mexico logger whose sustainable harvest operation is benefiting everyone from mill employees and customers to visitors to a renowned Boy Scout ranch. Deborah Begel has our report.

(Man: "I think the key is cutting off the trees as close to the ground as you did." Second man: "Right. It's harder to log this way, but if you have a careful operator and you have some..." Footfalls.)

BEGEL: Here in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northeastern New Mexico, the Boy Scouts of America own a thickly-forested 137,000-acre ranch. It was heavily logged in the past, even clear-cut in some areas, creating erosion and drainage problems. Unhappy with the unsightly and unhealthy results, the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch stopped all logging in the 70s and 80s. But while the forests lay fallow, new problems cropped up.

HOBBS: We had a tremendous fuel wood buildup in the underbrush here. And we got a big mistletoe disease infestation around the Miners' Park area, which is a very prime camping site in the Ponderosa zone.

BEGEL: Greg Hobbs is a member of the Philmont Scout Ranch Committee. He says despite these problems, many committee members were loathe to begin logging again. And, he says, several foresters they talked to felt the scouts weren't willing to cut enough timber to make it worth their while.

HOBBS: And Harry Morrison was asked by the ranch to take a look at what might be done.

BEGEL: Harry Morrison is a forester and small mill owner, part of a new breed of managers who practice logging that they say is both economically viable and environmentally responsible. Morrison took the job. He helped the Scouts come up with a timber management plan that satisfied even the most reluctant ranch committee members.

HOBBS: Harry showed us that we could start with a 20-acre, 40-acre tract, thin, say 25 to 30% of the merchantable timber, and actually we could sustain conservation of the timber and wildlife resources on the ranch by the income from selling those trees, but with carefully prescribing the conditions under which it would be done.

BEGEL: Morrison's plan left a mixed age forest with a healthy diversity of Ponderosa pine, Rocky Mountain juniper, Douglas fir, and Pinon pine.


MORRISON: So about 5,000 to 6,000 Boy Scouts will hike or hike this trail annually. So we wanted to be real careful in what we did in here.

BEGEL: Morrison says logging a place like this requires a careful hand.

MORISSON: They're here to enjoy the back country, so we didn't want to leave a forest that looked overly managed. You can look through there and see what it looks like. We've opened it up some. Water's always a critical element in the southwest, so we want to make sure that we protect our watersheds. By protecting the water, you're probably helping your wildlife populations. What we want to do in the southwest is always make sure we select our sites very carefully, and not select sites to log that are going to be highly erodable.

(Motor running. A door creaks open. Logs spill onto the ground. A buzz saw starts up.)

BEGEL: While the Boy Scouts' priorities are recreation, wildlife preservation, and forest health, the owners of the Diamond S Ranch in the San Juan Mountains across the Colorado border want to make money. They, too, turn to Morrison for help. Managing partner Jeb Binkley wanted to add logging to the ranch's cattle grazing and big game hunting operations. But he also needed to protect the value of the land.

BINKLEY: Most people that are buying big ranches now are buying them for the recreation and the inherent serenity and beauty. And by lightly harvesting the timber at any one time, I think, we retain those essential elements and hopefully promote them.

BEGEL: Morrison's plan for the Diamond S Ranch allows Binkley to log 30% to 40% of a stand, and return to log it again in 20 to 25 years. Now 12 years into the logging operation, the ranch makes money off its timber and gets a tax break for preserving elk habitat. This approach has impressed some environmentalists.

CAREY: This really looks good because my definition, I guess, of good forest management is that you leave a forest behind.

BEGEL: Henry Carey runs Forest Trust in Santa Fe, which advocates sustainable forestry. He calls this a conservative cut.

CAREY: And in this place, as we stand here, you can feel that it's still shady, it's still cool. The microclimate has not been drastically changed by this harvesting. So this is the kind of harvesting, I think, that we need to see happening across all of our forests.

BEGEL: For Harry Morrison, sustainable forestry requires balancing 3 fundamental goals.

MORRISON: Number one, it must be sustainable biologically. You shouldn't be cutting any more than you're growing. Number two, it should be sustainable by the individual or institution that's owner of the land. And number three, it should be -- these are my own ideas really, I guess -- but it should be sustainable from a community level.

(A motor runs, a mill saws wood.)

BEGEL: It's here at his mill in New Mexico's Chama Valley that Morrison completes the loop of his forestry business. Timber from Jeb Binkley's ranch and others ends up here, where it's process and sold directly to local retail customers as lumber and firewood.

MORRISON: The logs come in here. I scale them, measure them, sort them out, take them to the mill, put them on the deck. They go into the wood miser.

(A motor runs; wood is sawed.)

BEGEL: By cutting out the middleman, Morrison can make back some of the extra cost of his selective logging operation. He also keeps jobs in the local community and produces a product that he says local people can afford.

MORRISON: What I'm trying to do with my little business is go ahead and manufacture this on a local level, so that this log won't be shipped, say, 100 miles and manufactured into lumber and sold to a distributor and then resold to a store in Chama. But hopefully by eliminating the middleman I can sell a quality product for a reasonable price to local people. Which is kind of unique.

BEGEL: Forester Harry Morrison says every stand of trees in each part of the country is different, so his approach may not work everywhere. But where the conditions are right, Morrison's business could be a model for a country that wants it all: cheap lumber, good jobs, and healthy forests. For Living on Earth, this is Deborah Begel in Chama Valley, New Mexico.



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth