These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Retired Victoria, B.C. resident Bruce Lemire-Elmore sees his fifth-generation Puget Sound logging company as a model for British Columbia’s new direction in sustainable forestry.

The Eddy family reunion in Port Blakely this year. Photo submitted

Tell us about your company.

Port Blakely Tree Farms has two synergistic purposes: making a profit and contributing to a livable planet. We employ 80 people to manage 260,000 acres of forest mostly in the U.S. Pacific Northwest with some in New Zealand. Our annual allowable cut (AUC) is determined by the actual growth across the entire forest estate in any given year and all timber taken out — whether by planned harvesting or by salvaging after fire, infestation or severe weather — gets included. By contrast, policies in Canada include only planned timber harvesting in the AUC.

For most logging companies, trees are only valuable once cut. The average harvesting age is 40 years. Our average harvesting is done at 60 years old, which, in the Pacific Northwest, allows the forest to sequester twice as much carbon. We plan the size and shape of the cut to optimize biodiversity and habitat protection and forest ecosystems live longer.

Puget Sound Energy and the city of Eugene, Ore., have purchased our sequestered carbon credits to offset their own carbon footprint. While carbon offsets are not a silver bullet, they do motivate purchasers to reduce their carbon footprint, and the sale of the credits helps to cover the additional expenses we incur in preserving and enhancing wildlife habitat.

We see living trees as valuable and not just as potential timber. We are tree farmers, not just loggers.

Bruce Lemire-Elmore at the Matson Conservation Area next to his Sooke, B.C., condo, where he volunteers pulling invasive weeds. Photo submitted

Has Port Blakely always been so forward-thinking?

Retired Victoria, B.C. resident Bruce Lemire-Elmore sees his fifth-generation Puget Sound logging company as a model for British Columbia’s new direction in sustainable forestry. #ClimateAction #Forestry

Starting in the 1600s, my family clear-cut forests from Maine across the continent. Like most companies today, we had no intention of logging the same forest twice. But when my grandfather James G. Eddy reached the Pacific Ocean, he ran out of land. He went to Luther Burbank, who had discovered how to breed roses and said: “I want to do with trees what you do with roses. Breed in the strengths and breed out the weaknesses.” He set up the US Forest Service’s Institute of Forest Genetics to grow better trees.

Eddy learned to look for harvested, soil-rich land and to grow trees adapted to each micro-climate. In the 1990s when public awareness about species at risk and environmental impacts grew and organizations like the Sierra Club raised alarms, Port Blakely hired wildlife biologists to enable their operations to stay ahead of concerns.

This improved both the environment and the company’s bottom line. For example, logging used to have to stop in winter because rain runoff from roads pollutes fish-bearing streams. The biologists suggested widening the roadside ditches and seeding them with native grasses for continuous runoff filtration and now logging continues all year.

In 1996, Port Blakely entered into its first habitat conservation plan (HCP) with national agencies, which now covers 11,000 acres in Pacific County, Wash. In 2009, we made a binding agreement with the state to enhance wildlife habitat on 45,000 acres in Washington. We have similar relationships in Oregon. Our forests are an essential tool in preserving biodiversity, protecting against climate change and helping states meet their climate targets, and our work is recognized by the Forest Sustainability Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

How do you ensure this continues?

“The Eddy Academy” teaches our children and youth about forests and the importance of Port Blakely’s dual purposes in preserving their future well-being. We will never take the company public because our family values must continue to be the guide.

Bruce Lemire-Elmore's grandchildren share learnings from their forest experience at the Port Blakely Tree Farms annual meeting. Photo submitted

What is the application to British Columbia?

The B.C. government has pledged to implement all the recommendations of A New Future For Old Forests. Industry says it is impossible to both make money and respect environmental habitat and conservation values, but our company is a template to the contrary.

What makes this challenging?

The current culture in the industry prioritizes profit over ecosystem sustainability. It takes discipline and investment to achieve both simultaneously.

What gives you hope?

Martin Luther King said the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. I was a Jesuit seminarian for 12 years and see modern science telling us another arc in the universe bends towards regeneration. The cosmos and intact ecosystems are both beautiful in their orderliness and self-healing.

Bruce Lemire-Elmore caught out in the rain in Vienna. Photo submitted

Tell us about your background.

After I married, I taught high school in Ontario before moving to B.C. in 1981. I’ve been an adviser and a board member of the company. My wife died suddenly in 2012 and two years later, my log home burned down and I went through a rough patch. But now I am active in my United Church and my family’s values support me to make meaning in life.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Take time to reflect on how your life experience can contribute to a better world for your children and grandchildren. If you just stay as busy as when you were working and raising a family, you might miss the opportunity for wisdom.

What about young people?

Spend time in nature. If you listen, it will teach you all you need to know. Spending time with Indigenous people in nature will allow you to see everything differently.

Keep reading

I love this article. I think this gentleman shows wisdom in many ways, including community responsibility.
It also reinforces my belief that our present economic model of unbridled profit is unsustainable. Present day corporations, especially international ones with their shareholder value focus are a huge problem in the sense that whatever they touch, be it forestry, fishing, mining, farming is destroying our planet.

I appreciate this informative outreach from Mr Lemire-Elmore.
It does leave me with some questions , however.

I hope this author is accepting of my skepticism regarding anyone’s self-reporting of their own claims of sustainable living and working, particularly a forest harvester.

I guess I will start with the observation that FSC is the acronym for Forest *Stewardship* Council.

I appreciate the mention of the FSC but the author states “our work is recognized by” the FSC. What does “recognized” mean? Normally, operators of forests are proud to state that their forests, and practices, have been “certified” by the FSC. Consequently, I have no idea if the author was merely unconsciously conflating the two terms (and the forest lands are, indeed, certified by the FSC) or if he is intentionally misleading the reader.

So, what specific FSC certification, if any, has been accorded to what specific percentages of the forests owned and/ or managed by this company?

The author points out that “Our average harvesting is done at 60 years old”. From that, two questions arise.

1. What was the pre-colonial forest demography (the age and species distribution of the trees)? What is the distribution now, both target and actual?

2. About 20 years ago, Gordon Campbell’s BC gov’t proposed “Working Forests” legislation, in which they advocated the entire (accessible) provincial forest land base re given a haircut in 100 year rotations. On the basis of that single number (average age), Campbell’s plan seems to have more ecological benefit than what the author is reporting, which is an absurd notion. Clearly, more information is needed to be assured that the author’s forests do, in fact, represent the implied biodiversity of an ancient west coast forest.

Elsewhere, the author refers to a US Forest Service’s efforts to “grow better trees”; that is, “Breed in the strengths and breed out the weaknesses.”

One presumes that, coming from ca 1900 (the year is not specified, and I derived 1900 guesstimate from the author-provided Britannica link), “better” and “strengths” refers solely to marketability of the fibre in the tree, rather than the strength, integrity, and resilience of the entire forest. This would, I think, represent thinking similar to BC Forest Service collectors who, I understand, (used to? Still do?) collect seed cones by helicopter from the tallest trees. The human equivalent is, of course, selecting seed from only the tallest humans for reproduction, there being insufficient value in those of shorter stature. (Tolkien’s Gimli would be quite put out by such sentiment!) No indication that thought has been given to what strengths a shorter tree might possess.

Somethings not mentioned:

Are the forest lands replanted in a monoculture, or with diverse species? With either possibility, are the species planted native to the specific area?

Are any pesticides used in the tree farms?

What efforts are in place to ensure the integrity of forest soil ecosystems?

In summary:
I am very happy to recognize work that, in reality, serves to regenerate the land base. Unfortunately, as the author will know and one hopes agree, greenwashing has grown into something far more widespread than a cottage industry, and any claims of ecological purity must be clearly substantiated. In this article, in my estimation, the author didn’t meet that bar and a cloud hangs over it.

Just a comment: excellent considerations!