Woodsmanship and Naturecraftsmanship

Pine Barrens B Williams tour 20jun2013
Part of a forest in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Bob Williams, winner of N J's Audubon's Richard Kane Conservation Award 2013, plans the management, thinning, harvest, and controlled burns for this and other forests in this region. He practices "Woodsmanship," which I explain here.

On June 19, 2013, Bob Williams, a certified forester practicing in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, received New Jersey Audubon's  Richard Kane Conservation Award--- their conservationist of the year award.  He has successfully planned timber harvests for commercial and government forests for more than twenty years, converting little-remembered and poorly cared for forests into stands that provide valuable timber products, earn profits for the landowners, and improve the conservation of biodiversity in the unusual oak-pine forests of the southern New Jersey coastal plain.

I recently spent a day with Bob visiting the forests and seeing stands of many stages and treatments. At one stop he said he had thinned the forest we were looking at.  I asked him how he determined how much to remove.  I was thinking as a scientist in terms of carefully measuring the diameter and height of trees.  Bob said he couldn’t afford to do that, desirable though it was.  Instead, he would show the logger who would cut the trees an already thinned forest and tell him, “I want that other forest to look like this.”  Then he would train that logger, having him thin trees in a small area and telling him what he needed to change.  After enough trials, he would let the logger continue on his own.

Bob listens to and makes use of scientific information, then combines it with his long experience in the woods.  With my decades of experience as both an ecological scientist and a naturalist who loves being out in nature, I understood what Bob was doing.  We agreed that it is “woodsmanship” — the art and practice of forestry. Woodsmanship is somewhere between the two dominant approaches to environment these days: scientific research and ideological environmentalism.

To many, harvesting trees while at the same time improving the conservation of nature may seem contradictory. But Henry David Thoreau didn’t think so, as I explain in one of my ebooks, No Man’s Garden:Thoreau and a New Vision for Civilization and Nature.  Logging per se did not interfere with Thoreau’s appreciation of the spiritual qualities of forested nature, as long as the cutting was not so large in area or so severe as to disallow any sense of contact with the forest, or where logging seriously interfered with other land uses, especially logging so destructive that the cutover land could not be used to build cities.

I’ve worked with and met experts on condors, salmon, and forests elsewhere in our country, who worked that same way. My visit with Bob Williams was a welcome reacquaintance with woodsmanship, and it was good to discover that the practice is alive and well, at least in some corners of our nation, and that it was recognized by landowners and honored by the New Jersey Audubon Society.   I believe that “woodsmanship” in its largest sense, perhaps “naturecraftsmanship,” is one of the key things lacking in environmentalism today and is essential if we are to find ways to help conserve nature and save ourselves.

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  1. says

    I’ve known Bob for over a decade and have long admired his skill navigating the worlds of forestry, conservation, media, and politics – all for the benefit of his clients: the private landowners and working forest lands of the Garden State. Recognition of Bob’s work to sustain working forests in the core of the eastern megapolis by NJ Audubon and world renowned naturalists like Botkin is an endorsement of the legitimacy of his approach in NJ and for forest management generally where it is practiced thoughtfully and professionally. Kudos to NJ Audubon and Botkin for recognizing Bob’s work and the indispensable role of professional forestry in conserving New Jersey forests for all their values.

  2. says

    Bob Williams has been my private foester for over 10 years & has done an excellent job of advising me on the management of the 75 acres under our foest plan. Bob insists that the plan be implemented & managed in accordance with his written plan & in keeping with sound forest practices. Congratulations and we need more ” Bob Wiiliams” in N.J. !
    Bob Decker
    Estell Manor, N.J.

  3. George Zimmermann says

    I have known Bob for decades and he has never wavered from his mission to protect and enhance our forests. Bob is doing cutting edge forestry that is well ahead of the classical versions from Pinchot’s days. I do not know another forester in our State who has a more in-depth grasp of all the variables in forest management from the abiotic to biotic variables, the effect of past events, the State and federal regulatory system. etc. I am happy another scientist of the stature of Dr. Botkin has added his support to what Bob has been doing for many years………………………………I hope here at Richard Stockton College, where Bob’s forest plan has been approved by the Pinelands Commission, we can start to do more in science and education to promote ecological forestry that is sustainable and enhances the countless amenities our forest give to us…..

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