Nature Conservancy President's message

ForestFair forestfair at
Wed Dec 9 21:31:56 EST 1998

The following come from The Nature Conservancy's magazine.  For more about of
the magazine, go to:

The President's View
Seeing the forest for the trees 

Many years ago, hiking through a remote section of the Adirondacks, I 
stumbled upon the forest primeval: a stand of trees seemingly as old as 
the Earth itself, utterly untouched by the woodsman's ax or the logger's 
chainsaw. Majestic white pines almost blotted out the sun. No scraggly 
second-growth trees or brambles competed for light or space. 

It was breathtaking in its beauty, yet heartbreaking in its evocation of 
times past. Most of eastern North America once looked like this. Sadly, 
all that is left of the original forest are scattered remnants. 

When I came to The Nature Conservancy more than eight years ago, I began 
speaking regularly about forest conservation issues and thought of this 
old-growth forest. Eager to experience its glow again, I retraced my 
steps to the same spot that had enchanted me before-and received instead 
an instructive lesson in ecology. 

A number the grand old white pines still stood as before. But many 
others were gone, rending great holes in the canopy and giving the 
forest a dramatically different feel. Seedlings, shoulder-high saplings 
and young trees abounded. 

Perplexed, I asked my companion what had happened. What I was witnessing 
was not the effects of timbering, but rather a dynamic forest in action. 
A freak wind storm a few years before had knocked down a bunch of the 
old trees, setting in motion the timeless pattern of forest 
regeneration. "You were focusing on the trees, not the forest," he said, 
laughing. "Some of these trees may have died, but the forest is 

I recall this lesson every time the Conservancy engages in another 
forestry initiative. On one hand, it illustrates the point that forests 
are ever-changing. People tend to think of forests as static, when in 
fact they are just the opposite. But even more important, it reinforces 
in my mind the need to look at the fate of entire forests-not that of 
individual trees-when designing conservation strategies for our 

Simply put, an organization such as the Conservancy cannot possibly hope 
to acquire and set aside forests on the scale necessary to conserve 
biodiversity for the long term. Rather, we must find ways to engage the 
owners of America's working forests-from private landowners of small 
woodlots to multinational timber giants-in productive partnerships that 
meet their needs for economic return while meeting the Conservancy's 
desire for intact, healthy ecosystems. 

To that end, over the past several years we have engaged in a number of 
ground-breaking partnerships centered around compatible forestry-with 
Georgia-Pacific in North Carolina, with the Vermont Land Trust in the 
Northeast Kingdom and, soon, with landowners in Virginia's Clinch Valley 
(see "A Clearing in the Forest," page 18). 

Some of our most impressive forestry work is taking place abroad. We 
have emerged as the world's leader in developing carbon sequestration 
projects, which rely on forest conservation as a mechanism for 
addressing the threat of climate change. Our proj-ects in Bolivia and 
Belize-and, we hope, other places as well-are at the cutting edge of 
conservation and represent tremendous opportunities not only for 
reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, but also for protecting 
forests (see "Re-leaf from the Heat," page 12). 

Some trees will fall as a result of our involvement in these projects. I 
and many of our members, I suspect, would prefer that things were 
otherwise. But ever since my walk in the Adirondacks a few years back, 
I'm looking out for the forest-not the trees-and so is The Nature 

John Sawhill
President / CEO 



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