About ten years ago in Santa Fe, a bunch of foresters got together and discovered they were of like minds when it came to the state of their profession and mainstream forestry. They were private consulting foresters trying to do the right thing while making a living, and public service foresters toiling away at state and federal agencies. What they saw when they looked around the forests and woodlands in their regions sickened them.
The woods were being hammered. There were too many "timber beasts" out there taking advantage of landowners and high-grading timber so that virtually no trees of marketable or wildlife value remained. The regulations governing forest cutting practices did little to safeguard the ecology of the woodlands or hold foresters, loggers, and sawmills to ethical standards. Environmentalists who might have been natural allies with foresters trying to practice ecological principles in forest management instead associated all forestry with clear cutting and the destructive, short term harvests that were the industry standard.
These men and women were inspired to learn that they had colleagues across the country who imagined a different way for forestry: one that provided a living for foresters but placed the long-term health and viability of managed woodlands over other considerations. Together they formed the Forest Stewards Guild, today known as the Forest Guild, to serve and expand their community of ecologically minded and principled forestry professionals. They were joined by conservation land managers and allied professionals, adopting a progressive mission and "First Principles". The Guild set about actively working toward the day when mainstream forestry practices will reflect these values.
In the interest of full disclosure, I've been a Guild member for several years as an "allied professional" and recently agreed to act as Guild coordinator for the Guild in Connecticut and Rhode island, where we've got about 10 members at last count but aim to add more.
Guilders are an unusual bunch. Those I have worked with are of varied stripes and temperaments. A couple of "b-loggers" (my friend Joe Zorzin in particular) are notorious in some quarters for excoriating hypocrisy wherever they find it. What unites us are a belief in better forestry and a willingness to adhere to the highest standards.
The mission of the Forest Guild is to promote ecologically, economically, and socially responsible forestry as a means of sustaining the integrity of forest ecosystems and the human communities dependent upon them. Every applicant for Guild membership submits a statement of personal values and agrees to adhere to some remarkable principles. Among these are the belief that a forester's first duty is to the forest and its future. A Guild forester will disassociate from a client with management directives that conflict with the mission and principles of the Guild and when dialog and education fail to address them. Far from high-minded posturing, disassociation from unethical practices really happens, despite the economic hardship it may cause the Guild forester to walk away from a lucrative job and the possibility of more work with that less scrupulous employer.
One of the best practices of the Forest Guild has been the recognition and promotion of model forests. I recently had the pleasure of peer reviewing a model forest nomination in Massachusetts, and the contrast between the thoughtful, long-term management practices on that property and surrounding woodlands managed on short-rotations, often without the benefit of a consulting forester, let along a Guild member, was striking. Stands that were managed for maple, for example, had fine specimens of other trees left to mature rather than culled, and a diversity of both species and forest structure that in our area is usually only found in older, unmanaged woodlands.
The Guild is up against many hurdles in its effort to mainstream its approach to forestry. As with many small non-profit organizations, it has struggled in recent years when funding sources failed to sustain its growth and its decentralized nature caused it to assume a very different character in some regions. Today, the Guild is reengaging its members while working to broaden its impact. It has the potential to be not just the conscience of the forestry profession but a valued partner in forestry reform and conservation overall.
There's a guy who drives around Central Massachusetts with a big sign on his truck that says "Money for Your Trees." It is a dirty little secret that too many loggers take advantage of landowner ignorance and buy timber at a fraction of its true value, just as too many foresters are willing to sign off on low-value, short-term harvests rather than encouraging landowners to invest in growing bigger trees and healthier woodlands. This is not the way of the Forest Guild, and when the day comes when such practices are as unacceptable in the forestry profession as second hand smoke in the modern workplace, the Guild will have played its part to bring that about.