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Community & Forestry
a few thoughts for discussion

By Ed Iglehart
(Delivered as a short talk in Castle Douglas - Spring 1999)

I hope you don’t mind if I use notes.  I’ve been asked to keep the swearing to a minimum.

What is Community Forestry Anyway?  I reckon  each community must develop its own answers.

We are all members of many communities, whether we like it or not : Communities of place -  farms, hamlets, villages, towns, regions, and nations. And communities of interest - Our families, beliefs, our businesses, our passions, other affiliations, and the community of all living things.  

All of us here belong to the community of interest involving local woodland and other land-uses - we wouldn’t be here otherwise.

Forestry.  Now there’s a word with difficulties.  All too often it implies the strictly economic and industrial use of trees.   A true forest is far more complex than a monocultural tree factory, as even the hardest-nosed commercial forester will agree.   

For the sake of this discussion,  I am referring to the  management of land where trees are present, but where there will also be varying amounts of other plants and animals, including people and open spaces of all sorts and sizes.  

The management objectives for such land are likely to include economic return, but by no means need they be restricted to short-, or even medium-term cash flow.  There will be other objectives as well.

These objectives will vary widely from place to place, according to local conditions, which brings me back to community.  Land-use, including forestry, happens in a  PLACE, and the community of place is a major local condition.

So we are talking about local communities of place participating  in the management of local places.   The local communities of interest are the ones most likely to become involved - And here we are.

Nobody asleep yet?  I’ll try droning a bit harder.

ALL land uses have an  economic dimension, and the sum of a local economy has always depended upon local land use, particularily around here, where agriculture is the second largest source of employment.  Any guesses as to Number One?

In the Stewartry, roughly one third of the land is forest, but it  provides less than one thirtieth  of local employment. (including sawmilling, haulage, etc.) and too many of our children have to leave the area to find work elsewhere or moulder on the dole scrapheap at the very beginning of their adult lives.

Given this, it is easy to question whether central governments or a succession of so-called local governments have demonstrated that they are any better qualified to determine local priorities than local people might be.   

We might even question the benefit of  inward investment - it’s just another name for  economic colonialism, whereby communities allow themselves and their places to be sold off as providers of cheap raw materials and cheap labor. (to be discarded when the resources are used up or  market conditions change?)

It is not surprising if many are sceptical that any corporation ever comes to any rural place to do it good, to “create jobs,” or to bring to the local people the so-called benefits of the global market.   Corporations come to make maximum profits for people who live somewhere else - That’s every corporation’s agenda, its  duty to its shareholders.

I copied down something a wise farmer wrote:
To put the bounty and the health of our land, our only commonwealth, into the hands of people who do not live on it and share its fate will always be an error. For whatever determines the fortune of the land determines also the fortune of the people. If the  history of any place teaches anything, it teaches that." -- Wendell Berry
BUT it is not enough, and this is important!  It is not enough to simply reject  a renewal or extension of the present colonial economy.  

We must have something better in mind.  We have to ask ourselves what kind of local economy we would like to have, and where  the forest might fit into it..

Obviously I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I have lived half my life in this community,  enjoying much wonderful  time working (and playing) out of doors.  There has also been some wet weather to get in a bit of reading and thinking.  I am concerned  any time village schools are at risk, or village shops & pubs, and it’s clear that local churches and auction marts are not the meeting places and reservoirs of community they  were.

These are not my own ideas, but come from the work of many good folk who have put  thought and work into  the survival and the health of their  communities.  

A good forest economy, like any other good land-based economy, would aim to join the local human community and the local natural community or ecosystem together as conservingly and as healthfully as possible.

A good forest economy would therefore be a local economy, and the forest economy of a nation or a region would therefore be a decentralized economy. The only reason to centralize such an economy is to concentrate its profits into the fewest hands.

A good forest economy would be owned locally.   It would afford a decent livelihood to local people. And it would propose to serve local needs and fill local demands first, before seeking markets elsewhere.

A good forest economy would preserve the local forest and increase its native diversity, quality, health, abundance, and beauty. We would see no difference between our own prosperity and the prosperity of the forest ecosystem. A good forest economy would act as a sort of lobby for the good use of the forest.

A good forest economy would be properly scaled. Individual enterprises would be no bigger than necessary to ensure the best work and the best livelihood for workers. The ruling purpose would be to do the work with the least possible disturbance to the local ecosystem and the local human community.

Keeping the scale reasonably small is good for the forest. Only a local, small-scale forest economy would permit, for example, the timely and selective cutting of small woodlots.

Another benefit of smallness of scale is that it preserves economic democracy and the right of private property.

Property boundaries, as we should always remember, are human conventions, useful for defining not only privileges but also responsibilities, ensuring that use is accompanied by long familiarity, affection, and care.

Such boundaries exist only because the society as a whole agrees to their existence. If the right of landownership is used only to protect an owner’s wish to abuse or destroy the land, upon which the community’s welfare ultimately depends, then society’s interest in maintaining the convention understandably declines.

And so, in the interest of democracy and property rights, there is much to be gained by keeping especially the land-based industries small.

A good forest economy would be locally complex. People in the local community would be employed in forest management, harvesting, and sawmilling, a variety of value-adding small factories and shops, and in satellite or supporting industries.  The local community, that is, would be enabled by its economy to realize the maximum income from its local  resource.

This is the opposite of a colonial economy. It would ask and answer unequivocally the question:

To whom is the value added?

And so, such a local forest economy, living by the measure of local economic health, might be led to some surprising alterations of forestry technology.  For instance, from the viewpoint of the community, it is not always much of an improvement when labour-saving technology reduces employment.

For example, we might well  look again at the use of draft animals and human beings in harvesting and other operations, where appropriate.

This would not only be kinder to the forest,  but would also be another way of elaborating the economy locally, requiring lower investment and generating more employment within and less spending outside the community.

A good forest economy would make good forestry attractive to landowners, providing income from other uses of their woodlands, markets for forest products other than timber, and so on.

And a  good forest economy would obviously need to be much interested in local education. We would, of course, need to pass on to our children the larger culture’s inheritance of book learning. But also, both at home and at school, we would want our children to learn local geography, ecology, history, natural history, and, of course, local songs and stories.

And we would want a sort of apprenticeship process, constantly preparing our young people to carry on the local work in the best way.

National agencies, the present guardians of our public lands, have a duty to protect the ‘public interest’, and ‘the public’ is understood to mean the state. But a community is the local manifestation of the public, and a community of place is a community of residents!  We actually live here! and we have a vital interest in the sustainable management of our local environment, including  all land, public and private.  

The interests of residents, being local and often of many generations, are not identical to those of absentee proprietors, whether they be individuals, corporations, or agencies of ‘public’ ownership

Local benefit  (economic, social, environmental) -  must be the prime consideration in determining  policy, including land use, and particularly in the case of publicly owned  resources.  Why else have public land?

Some of you may be surprised to hear me say this, But in the case of private land, I believe deeply that resident owners have the greatest direct interest and offer the best assurance of good management practice.  

If you thought differently, you have got me wrong!  I am a resident and owner, if only on 8 acres.  

So it seems clear to me that  good management, in the public interest, is most likely to be achieved through direct and controlling  participation of resident local folk.

And, that where work is to be carried out, it is most likely to be well done by suitably qualified local workers.

And so it is also clear that  provision of local employment is a valid objective.  And, in practice, a natural outcome of good management!

Above all, we must not allow ourselves to feel intimidated or excluded from full and active participation through lack of ‘expertise.’

Local knowledge and affection for our neighbourhood places  are just as  important!
All this implies that a good forest economy would be a limited economy. It would be limited in scale and limited by what it would not do. But it would also be limited by the need to leave (or to create as at Carrifran), some wilder areas of significant acreage unused.  (or hectarage, if we must have it  that way - it’s only numbers!)

Because of our  inclination to be proud and greedy, our human character needs this practical deference toward things greater than ourselves.  Personally, I think this is a religious deference.

Also, for reasons of pure self-interest and our own survival, we need wilderness as a standard.  Wilderness gives us the indispensable pattern and measure of sustainability.

Now, These thoughts are not meant to be limiting, but rather to emphasise that it’s our business to determine what we want, and how we’re likely to accomplish it.  "They" are able to help, and they want to, but if we just leave it to them, we’ll have no business complaining.  

If we get it right they will disappear, because they’ll just be some more of us!

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