The race is on. Salvage operations on the Ponderosa Burn are now underway. They race to harvest the fire killed timber and deliver it to the mills before it breaks down, and loses it’s value. The small landowners managed their timberlands to provide additional income, maintain healthy timber stands, and create an attractive forest. This fire has changed their management plans. If they don’t recover the value of the timber they will have no money for reforestation. The large timber companies will replant their lands as a part of normal operations. Replanting fire damaged timberlands in California is not required by law due to the massive cost it represents. The timber companies replant after these fires because it is good stewardship and good business.
The landscape on the big canvas is being repainted as this latest transformation begins. Fire was the first paint brush to change the canvas. Men and their machines are the next one.
The forester and the artist both create landscapes. Only a forester’s canvas is far larger than an artist’s canvas. The artist uses pencils, pens, brushes and all the other tools that create the play of color and light on paper. The forester’s tools are far larger, louder and powerful. They are the skidders, feller-bunchers, chainsaws, yarders and seedlings. Okay, I know what you are thinking, what kind of baloney is this guy selling. When we look out at a forest we see a beautiful thing. Harvesting trees changes how that forest looks and develops. The conventional wisdom may be that harvesting trees makes a forest ugly and at stages along the way I would agree. That is all part of the process. When an area is burned in a wildfire and the salvage harvest is complete it looks pretty bad to most folks. This is only one stage in the development of an ever-changing picture. Soon the seedlings come and it is no longer a barren clearcut, but it is a brand new forest.
A new forest rising from ashes of a wildfire.
Each year the trees grow and the picture is adorned with deer, turkeys and other wildlife that forage in this new forest. As a forester I relish the changes I see with each passing year and how our work adds to the picture. For a forester the picture is never done so we have to appreciate it for what it is at this moment in time. Most folks have memories of that favorite camping spot in the forest that they went to as a child. Memories that are so striking and indelible that they cannot imagine them ever changing. However, these forest change every day. Mostly slowly, but sometimes in blazing moments. To the forest the changes are not good or bad, but simply different. To the forester it is a canvas on which to apply his or her trade. The forest changes and grows and our pictures change with it. We may not always agree on what makes beautiful art or a beautiful forest, but I hope as practitioners of the trade we are passionate and dedicated to the process.
I did this watercolor for the children’s book Firestorm In The Forest , a Red Tail Publishing book.
As an artist working in the forest provides an endless source of subjects to paint or draw. Never stale and always changing. I never know when I will come across a bear crashing through the brush or a dramatic vista that will make me pause for a minute to take it in.