29 November 2012

Living in the Appalachian Forest, by Chris Bolgiano

Posted by Callan Bentley

Last week, I finished reading Living in the Appalachian Forest: True Tales of Sustainable Forestry, by Chris Bolgiano. It’s a grab-bag of stories from the forested mountains of the south-central Appalachians, ranging from Pennsylvania down to Kentucky and maybe Georgia, too. West Virginia and Virginia get the most attention. The driving question behind the book is: How should I manage my land? Since this is a key question in my own mind (we have 23 acres of mixed-hardwood forest on the northwest flank of Massanutten Mountain), I checked the book out from the Fort Valley Library. I’m not sure I got the answer I sought, but one lesson I drew from the book is that there’s more than one way to manage Appalachian forest lands. From conservation easements to selective logging to horse-powered logging and clear-cutting, there are a lot of options. I found that my instinct to “thin” the forest by taking out some trees so the remaining trees get more resources is an established technique. I probably need to talk to a forestry consultant, but I think there’s the potential for selective logging here, and with the quality of some of these oaks, I’ll bet we could pull in a decent auxiliary line of income during harvest years. The main reason we have our land isn’t for cash, though, it’s for the sense of place, and the opportunity to interact with nature. So if we never cut a tree down for purposes beyond firewood, I’d be fine with that. The book is likely to be of interest only to those of us thinking about similar matters in this region of the world, so it probably wouldn’t have wider appeal like a lot of the nonfiction I read. On the other hand, the Hatfield/McCoy feud is featured, as are phantom Appalachian cougars, the Matewan massacre, and Daniel Boone’s time in Red River Gorge, which sounds like a place I’ve got to try and visit someday. But if you’ve got land in the Appalachians, and you’re looking for ideas on how to manage it, you might want to check it out.