The "Genius of the Place"
By Bettina Ring, Senior Vice President for Family Forests
We are a country that is blessed with rich and diverse communities: ecological, cultural and social. These communities include unique landscapes and people with fascinating stories. This became very evident to me during my recent travels when I had the good fortune, along other American Forest Foundation staff, to participate in the American Tree Farm System® certification assessments. As Sarah Crow, our certification manager, put it best; it is truly “a slice of America” at every stop.
From numerous field visits, meetings and presentations in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia, I listened to many compelling stories and was able to truly consult “the genius of the place,” as one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, so eloquently states. Berry is best known for his attention to place—from community to a very intimate knowledge of home, from the “terroir,” including the soil and weather, to human history.
My most recent encounters made me very proud to be an American—seeing the hard work and sweat equity Tree Farmers have put into their land, some during the course of many generations, and hearing the “before” and “after” stories. Some of the most striking stories were in Colorado, where I witnessed one Tree Farm after another that survived the wrath of recent forest fires due to good land stewardship. What struck me most was the humility of these small woodland owners, who were more willing to say it was luck than to take credit for the survival of their properties. I knew better.
It was a confident humility and pride that I observed in all of the woodland owners, land managers, business owners and conservation leaders I visited with during the past few months. And I heard from so many families who faced challenges on various levels but overcame them through hard work and perseverance. I was inspired by their honesty and how they did not shrink back from these challenges.
How do we as a forestry community continue to overcome the challenges before us such as the wildfires, invasive species and devastating storms threatening our forests and our homes? How do we address the policy challenges we face in passing tax and financial incentives and ensuring that wood is recognized as the important building material it is? How do we demonstrate more on-the-ground impact when we all have limited resources? How do we protect and steward the many values private forests and small woodland owners provide the American public?
These are the questions we are continually asking here at the American Forest Foundation and within the Tree Farm program. We will ultimately find the answers through new approaches and innovative tools. And yet, we must start by not shrinking back, by listening deeply and learning from each other and by always consulting “the genius of the place.”