Speech delivered at Annual Logging Contractors and Suppliers Get-Together
Seaport Room, Red Lion Inn
April 19, 2017
It’s Show and Tell World
James D. Petersen
Founder and President
The Evergreen Foundation
When Bill Higgins asked me if I’d come visit with you this morning I said, “Sure, what would you like me to talk about?”
And in typical Bill fashion, he replied, “Oh, whatever should be fine.”
“Well Bill,” I thought to myself, “What would you say to 200 loggers who’d rather be in the woods or at home than at your meeting?”
But before Bill could reply to my imaginary question that little tiny voice we all have in the backs of our heads – you know, the one that tries to keep us from getting killed by tough guys or our wives – that little voice answered my question for me.
It said, “Not much…if you know what’s good for you.”
So, we are going to talk about something that, hopefully, won’t get me killed.
I struggle with finding titles to my speeches because I so often end up not talking about what I think I’m going to talk about, but my working title this morning is “It’s a Show and Tell World,” and we’ll see where it goes.
After I hung up from my conversation with Bill, I looked up the titles of all the speeches I’ve given to loggers over the last bunch of years. Here are a few:
The Audacity of Hope
When You Are Up to Your Armpits in Elephants
When the President Calls, Do You Hang Up?
Don’t shoot, I’m Not a Lawyer!
Does Logging Have a Future?
The American Revolution is Still Going On
And, one really big hit: God Made a Logger, Part II.
Part 1 was a short narrative I wrote after watching a Dodge truck commercial during the 2014 Super Bowl. It featured the late Paul Harvey’s very moving recitation of “And God Made a Farmer,” a free verse written by an unknown Iowa newspaper columnist sometime in the early 1950s.
My parody went viral, meaning it was read by a helluva lot of people all over the world. It was reprinted in several timber industry publications. Perhaps you saw it. We have copies here for you, tucked inside a copy of Evergreen Magazine in which at least one of you – the mighty Jeff Adams – is featured.
Is Jeff here this morning? I want to be sure we publicly thank him for his very generous contribution to the Evergreen Foundation! Amazing what a little grease on the skids will do!
Anyway, Part II of my story about God making loggers was the title of my keynote address at the 2014 annual meeting of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals. We met with about 500 of them in Harris, a postage-stamp-of-a-town on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was snowing from left to right – and I remember being told that the turnout was twice what had been expected, not because it was me speaking, but because it was snowing so damned hard you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, so, no work.
You’ve already heard a bit this morning about Good Neighbor Authority and Forest Collaboration, but I’m going to add my two cents worth from what I hope is the reasonably well-informed perspective of a working journalist who has been writing about forestry and logging for about 50 years.
People are always surprised to learn that I am a journalist. Many mistakenly think I am a forester – a mistake that I consider a high compliment.
But, alas, my degrees are in journalism and broadcasting from the University of Idaho. Class of 1966. I console myself in the fact that, when I exited the business in 1972, facts still mattered.
How many of you are old enough to remember when loggers tied yellow ribbons on their pickup antennas?
The ribbons were my idea – and were part of an even crazier idea I had that became the largest peacetime truck convoy in the United States since World War II.
The event was the Silver Fire Roundup, an August 1988 rally in Grants Pass, Oregon. My goal was to call public and Congressional attention to the need to salvage-log at least some of the 200,000 acres of timber incinerated in the 1987 Silver Fire.
The long and the short of my story is that 1,626 logging trucks from five states showed up in Grants Pass on a beastly hot Saturday to protest Andy Kerr’s claim that “Salvage logging after a fire is like mugging a burn victim.”
Andy was one of Oregon’s more vocal anarchists of that era. I never much cared for him, but the guy was a master at six second sound bites. The press hung on his every word.
Apart from watching 1,626 logging trucks bring Interstate 5 and its arterials to a standstill for 40 miles in every direction, and apart from the uproarious cheers of some 10,000 spectators who lined both sides of Sixth Street in downtown Grants Pass, the highlight of my day was an electrifying off-the-cuff speech from my friend, Bruce Vincent.
Thank God, I wrote down what he said, because a big gust of wind blew his hastily-scribbled notes from the podium, and he later admitted he couldn’t remember much of what he’d said, but he had titled his speech, “It’s okay to be a logger.” You will find my reconstructed notes printed on the back side of “And God Made a Logger.”
What I remember most about Bruce’s speech is that it brought a standing room only crowd at the Josephine County Fairgrounds to its feet – and once on their feet, they stayed there, cheering as loudly as I’ve ever heard a crowd cheer. Even now, 29 years later, there are memories of that long-ago afternoon that are hard for me to talk about without welling up.
Mike Mortgage from Eureka, Montana was in the first driver to pass by our makeshift reviewing stand – two 40-foot flatbeds parked end to end.
Mike was 15 hours into his day, and still 45 minutes ahead of schedule, a loader operator’s worse nightmare for sure.
“Sorry, we’re early,” he told a nearly delirious crowd.
Truck No. 2 was driven by Clarence Pepiot, a bear-of-a-man who drove for the Vincent’s. Bruce later told me Clarence had said the 750-mile one way trek to Grants Pass was the highlight of his long driving career.
When Clarence dropped dead in his kitchen in 1990, his friends loaded his casket on a Vincent lowboy, all decked out in yellow ribbons, and drove him to his final resting place in the Libby Cemetery. God rest his weary soul.
As you might have guessed by now, I have a soft spot in my heart for all of you and what you do for a living. And I find it very unfortunate that more Idahoans don’t know more about your many contributions to our state’s economy and, dare I say, our natural and social environments.
I’d like to think that, with your help, we can do something to remedy this unfortunate circumstance.
I’ve never logged, but I know about tough jobs. I worked my way through college as a contract miner in the Bunker Hill, about a mile beneath the streets of Kellogg, my home town. We got paid by the running foot, a slightly different foot than yours, but still a damned tough way to make a living.
I spent a lot of my growing up years on my grandfather’s cattle ranch north of Sandpoint, Idaho and by the time I was 10, there weren’t many ranching jobs that I could not do well. I loved getting my hands dirty and I loved the smell of the earth, the soil.
At home now, I am outranked in both departments by my wife, Julia, whose devotion to gardening reminds me of Mother Bickerdyke’s devotion to wounded Union soldiers in the Civil War.
Mother Bickerdyke was General Grant’s Chief of Nursing, but she was General Sherman’s nemesis – not because he did not admire her work – but because whenever she fearlessly slashed through government red tape to get what her wounded boys needed, it was General Sherman who got his butt chewed, despite his frequent insistence that Mother Bickerdyke outranked him.
I am likewise outranked by my wife, who, blessedly lacks Mother Bikerdyke’s stern countenance – but she is the independent-as-hell and very capable daughter of a legendary forester, so she knows whereof she speaks in her advocacy of you.
Loggers could use a modern-day Mother Bickerdyke in their camp. I try, but, like General Sherman, I am outranked by the genuine article.
My wife is the genuine article and I might add, so are your wives. Julia will visit with you about this paradox after I’m done, so prepare yourself to meet a modern-day Mother Bickerdyke.
In the afterglow of the Silver Fire Roundup, Bruce and I and a few others somehow organized a grass roots network that held about 125,000 names, addresses, FAX and telephone numbers.
I say “somehow” because Al Gore had not yet invented the Internet, and if you even looked in the direction of your cell phone – remember those clunky old bag phones – you got a bill from AT&T for about $600, so we did most of our spade work at timber community rallies and on land lines at night.
Those groups – which were rooted in every timber community in the western United States – moved mountains on the congressional front, but they were never able to overcome the injustices that were occurring on the legal front. Now those groups have all gone down the road to Bitterness, Disappointment and Resentment – the latter destination being a direct result of the festering anger caused by a federal government that, until recently, had refused to listen to your concerns about the future.
Julia and I got a small dose of life in the post-grass roots era two Thanksgivings ago. It was our first Thanksgiving in northern Idaho, so we quite naturally attended Coeur d’Alene’s Christmas Parade, Tree Lighting and Fireworks Show. We were both dismayed by the fact that there wasn’t a single entry from your industry, not one lumber or logging truck, not one timber family.
Why, we wondered, would one of Idaho’s oldest industries – and certainly one of its most important – not have a single entry in a parade that is enjoyed curb-side by at least 30,000 revelers?
I asked my long-time friend, Shawn Keough, who I suspect many of you know, and her answer nearly broke my heart. She said she feared most of you don’t believe anyone in Idaho cares about you or the work you do, so you stoicly keep your heads down and keep working.
Fortunately for you, neither Julia nor I are easily discouraged, so last fall, we paid the parade entry fee and started planning for the big night.
I contacted Mike Henley at IFG’s Chilco mill and asked if he’d share the cost of decorations with us, and provide a load of logs for the truck we did not yet have. He readily agreed.
Next I called my friend, Jim Olson, who with his dad, Wes, owns Olson Trucking in Sandpoint. I told Jim I wanted a truck and driver for the parade, and he sent me a new truck and an old driver, a lovely guy named Dusty Howerton, age 73 – like me!
With the help of Dusty’s grandkids and our nieces and nephews, we decorated the truck in front of Dusty’s house: banners, Christmas lights, speakers for music, the whole nine yards powered by a rented generator that soon proved to be no match for Dusty’s energetic grandkids – and our thousand-mile-an-hour nephew – all of them packed tightly into the cab with Dusty.
As darkness approached on the Friday after Thanksgiving, we assembled at 14th and Sherman, about a mile and a half east of downtown Coeur d’Alene. By the time we passed 6th and Sherman, the press of spectators had pinched two lanes down to one, and everyone was cheering and waving as our wild-eyed Palm Springs nephew hung onto Dusty’s ear-shattering air horn with a vengeance.
I assure you, everyone present appreciated our presence. I know this because Julia and I walked on the driver and passenger sides of Dusty’s truck and shook hands with well-wishers.
No one person had a discouraging word to say about us. Quite a few knew Dusty and called out his name. One man I did not know walked up to the truck and shook Dusty’s outstretched hand.
I tell you this story for two reasons:
First, people in Coeur d’Alene do care about you, and I suspect the same is true of people all over our state.
Second, you need to tap this reservoir of good will; get acquainted with friends and neighbors you don’t even know.
I think there are a lot of Mother Bickerdyke’s out there who are willing to help you if you ask, Julia included.
Thirty-two years ago this spring, I was the keynote speaker at a timber industry banquet that doubled as Evergreen’s premier public outing. I explained my vision for Evergreen – part of which was to put a face on southern Oregon’s loggers and sawmill workers.
“I want people to know who you are and what you do,” I explained to those who would hopefully be our sponsors during our first year. At which point a drunken heckler in the back of the room jumped up and shouted, “We know who we are!”
“I know you know,” I quietly replied. “But no one else knows.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
Then applause, then louder applause as the truth of what I’d said sunk in, and then a funding commitment from the room, not for one year, but for five.
Southern Oregon would soon know many of its loggers and sawmill workers by name and deed.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that long-ago evening at the old Red Lion in downtown Medford, Oregon. But I still fret about the terrible damage done by those who purposefully seek to sully your public reputation.
Earlier this year, with parade memories and fresh hope in our hearts, Julia and I wound back the Evergreen clock in a series of interviews we published on our website and in print. The print version of “Idaho’s Forest Families,” which IFG helped fund, is on your table, along with the earlier mentioned complimentary copy of “And God Made a Logger.”
Jeff Adams wants me to remind you to read the interview about him, but there are other interviews I’m sure you will enjoy.
Many of you know Mack Lefebvre. Is Mack here this morning?
His interview got more than 700 Facebook hits in its first hour on our website. What’s up with that? Shouldn’t there be some sort of a fine for being so damned popular?
Three things briefly, and then I’m turning this over to my wife.
First, your social license is as real as your driver’s license. It is the reason why you must always conduct yourself in a way that would make your mother proud.
Your license is priceless. It is granted by the public – society at large. It says you have their permission to cut timber in Idaho’s forests, not just the ones the public owns, but they ones they think they own – even if they don’t really hold title to the land.
You protect this priceless license daily by doing what our friend Bruce Vincent has been preaching for 30 years. Remember what he said? He said, “The world is run by those who show up.”
You best show up or someone else will show up in your stead, and you probably aren’t going to like their plans for your future.
An old newspaper publisher friend had a marvelous way of dealing with his late-pay advertisers. He’d say, “I can understand anything but silence.”
Contrary to the old saying, silence is not golden. Silence is the kiss of death. You must show up, and you must do what you say and say what you mean. Nothing else will suffice.
We have been showing up on your behalf since 1986. Which brings me back to the title of my remarks: “It’s a show and tell world.”
You have a great story to tell, and a lot great work to show.
Counting my newspaper years, I have been watching you work for 50 years. I have lived long enough to see some of you log the same ground twice.
One spring morning, maybe 20 years ago, the late Bill Vincent, Bruce’s father, pointed with some pride at a jag of timber south of Libby, Montana and said, “You see that piece of larch greening up over there.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I see it.”
“I first logged that when I was 20,” he said with audible satisfaction in his voice. “Logged it twice more, once when Bruce was in high school, and then just a few years back.”
I once asked Bill why he kept working years after most of his peers had retired. He thought for a moment, and then through smiling eyes said, “Well, where else can I get two moonlight rides and a picnic lunch every day!”
You are the ones who do the heavy lifting for which others sometimes claim undue credit. You make six and seven figure capital investments in equipment, stay up half the night fixing broken stuff, hire and train crews to do work most people would never dream of doing, oversee jobs miles from home, and sometimes live in cramped travel trailers in the middle of nowhere when the job is too far from town for you to make it home every night.
You hope to work enough months every year to keep it all going and growing, you pray your kids will want to follow in your footsteps, and you can’t wait for Monday mornings.
You are walking, talking proof that God has a sense of humor.
“Artistic” is not a word most people would use to describe what you do – but I would, and I have.
Two summers ago, Julia and I spent a day in the woods near Bonners Ferry with Dave Ehrmantrout. Some of you probably know Dave. He was finishing up a thinning job for the Forest Service a few miles northeast of town in what the agency calls the “wildland-urban interface.
Dave’s son, Mackie, was running the harvester, a smaller and lighter than usual machine that – save for tree limbs it had laid in its own path – left no visible evidence of where it had been.
Dave was running the forwarder, an old blister that he named “Turtle.” God only knows how many turns Turtle has made in its 20-some years in the woods, but if it could talk, I’d have had a best seller.
The site was a typically overstocked mixed pine and fir stand, but not so far gone that a skilled logger could not save the best of it. And Dave and his son had. Wherever they found western white pine, they saved it by carefully removing not just the trees that were crowding it, but also the brush beneath it.
Dave showed me the biggest tree – a 2-foot diameter western white pine that had been so squeezed by surrounding lodgepole that, at first, he hadn’t seen it. But there it was, rising above me, straight as a fence rail, towering over the tops of everything around it.
Dave had even limbed what he could reach with a saw to keep ground fire from climbing into its crown.
That’s pride in a job well done. That’s artistry. That’s what you do that no one sees.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Potlatch ground here in Idaho. It’s all production logging, mostly big clearcuts that most people don’t like.
They aren’t pretty, but they are very instructive. You can learn a lot about neotropical birds, moles, voles, squirrels, deer, elk, hawks, wildflowers, naturally regenerating seedlings that pioneer big openings, and the amazing vigor of 2-0 seedlings lifted from nurseries.
There is poetry in motion in a big clearcut, if you know what to look for. Most people don’t.
My old friend, Dick Bennett, who is an IFG founder, doesn’t care for the poetry. He hates clearcuts and has railed against them for years. On his ground above Elk City, you see only small patch cuts and thinnings in which the only trees that have been removed are those that are diseased or not well formed.
Dick did it this way because he wanted to promote growth in nature’s best trees, so that’s what he did.
One or more of you in this room probably helped him do it. You were his artists. He let you paint on his canvass. Knowing Dick as I do, that’s a high compliment.
I later photographed a lot of that canvass for Dick, so I know how well you painted, and I know how damned mad he was about the terrible job the Forest Service was doing on lands adjacent to his.
Earlier, I mentioned forest collaboration and Good Neighbor Authority. You’ve already heard the technical stuff, which is good because I’m not good at it.
What I want to say, though, is that forest collaboration and GNA provide fabulous opportunities for you to show the world that you are big time artists.
You won’t get any more valuable opportunities to showcase your work to the news media, conservationists and skeptical publics who think you’re just in it for the money.
Good Neighbor Authority projects and collaborative forest restoration projects will sometimes work in tandem, but not always.
Either way, they will significantly increase log supply in Idaho – music to Marc Brinkmeyer’s ears. Music also to the ears of every county commissioner in Idaho who lays awake at night trying to figure out how to pay his county’s bills and balance its books.
Also, hopefully, music to every Idahoan’s ears because the thinning work that is planned will make this state’s multiple forest ownerships safer, healthier, more resilient and less prone to the ravages of insects, diseases and catastrophic wildfire.
Make no mistake. Idahoans love their forests – even the ones they don’t own. Here in Idaho, forestry and outdoor recreation veer close to one another. This isn’t a new thing. In the 1940s and 50s, long before RV’s came along, thousands of tourists camped in Coeur d’Alene’s City Park, mostly in World War II vintage Army surplus tents.
They also camped all along the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. I grew up there, packing a flyrod and dodging loaded log trucks on the dusty old road that went up the west side of the river. Many a time I rode back to town with a log trucker who took pity on me.
You were Ambassadors then, and you need to be Ambassadors now.
You are the ones who will do the GNA work and the collaborative thinnings under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service and/or Idaho Department of Lands foresters. It is your art that will be on display for all the world to see.
We aim to make sure you get credit, not just the work itself, but credit for the dizzying capital investments you make in equipment and crews, your unselfish devotion to your communities and your long years of dedication to a craft that few people understand or appreciate.
Never forget that it’s a show and tell world, and you have a lot of good to show and a great story to tell. We aim to help you get it done right, not just today and tomorrow, but every day.
Before I turn this over to Mother Bickerdyke, a reminder that we still have all those Christmas lights and banners, and we expect some of you to join us this year on Sherman Avenue the day after Thanksgiving.
Thanks for all you do for all of America.