The Entrepreneurial Forester

How Two Evergreen Alumni are Reshaping Northwest Forestry.

Ian Hanna and Kirk Hanson want you to cut down your trees. Well, some of them, anyway. Although it may sound contradictory, managing and selectively harvesting forests provides incentives for landowners to keep them healthy and growing instead of being lost to other uses. Development for real estate and conversion to agriculture, pasture or other uses all contribute to the Puget Lowlands having one of the highest rates of forest loss in the country.

Hanna and Hanson run Northwest Certified Forestry (NCF), the primary program of the Northwest Natural Resources Group, a nonprofit organization based in Port Townsend, Wash., which is working to create a new economic model for forestry. They identify new markets for FSCcertified wood products, find ways for companies to pay landowners for carbon offsets of greenhouse emissions, and educate small forest landowners on how to maximize both the ecological and economic value of their land.

Kirk Hanson and Ian Hanna

Kirk Hanson and Ian Hanna

“Landowners who are entrepreneurial want to do more with their land to enhance its longterm value,” says Kirk Hanson ’95, the NCF South Sound Regional Manager, and a small forest landowner himself. “They want to balance the health and quality of the forest and the economic opportunities. So we bring in a suite of services to connect them with resources and prospective customers.”

Many small-scale landowners have had limited opportunities for selling forest products, because they only had one market – large sawmills. NCF works to diversify those market options and bring providers and end-users together. With FSC certification, considered the global gold standard for sustainable forestry, they have opened other markets, such as “green” construction firms, that value the extra points that FSC-certified wood adds to their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification rating.

“We’re creating a local wood products economy – connecting local small landowners with local manufacturers and local discerning buyers,” Hanson explains. “This way, we can create a fairly stable and growing marketplace that values higher forest management standards.”

The ultimate “green” building material is local FSC wood, so they are working to enhance that market. Getting FSC certification historically has been an expensive proposition, and most small landowners don’t have the resources to pursue it alone. By banding together as a group through NCF, they can pool their resources to get their wood green-certified, plus get help in marketing their eco-friendly wood to buyers.

John and Robert Henrikson, co-owners of Wild Thyme Farm in Oakville, Wash., are founding members of the group certification program. Through the NCF network, the farm sells wood straight to local businesses like Windfall Lumber in Tumwater, which makes finished products, such as flooring, trim, molding and other lumber products. Selling directly to builders, as well as to individual end users, adds maximum value to their product.

“This way, family foresters can have different revenue streams, and a deeper relationship with their forest, creating the optimal scenario between preservation and loss,” Hanna explains.

Both Hanna and Hanson see their role as forest management innovators, something they honed at Evergreen. Hanna planned to be a chemist, but after joining the first temperate and tropical rainforests program led by faculty members Nalini Nadkarni and Jack Longino, he changed to ecological sciences.

He learned to run a business the old fashioned way—trial and error—when he founded Windfall Lumber, one of the first FSCcertified businesses in the Northwest. “Evergreen teaches you how to learn on your own,” he says. “So I started my own business and learned how to run it.”

Hanson knew he was interested in entrepreneurial resource management, and studied nonprofit/small business structures through an independent contract. In 1996, he founded Permaculture West, a nonprofit organization that provided educational and training programs on sustainable forest and farm management for private landowners. He’s also worked for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, where he helped found the Small Forest Landowner Office.

"The college emphasized getting students out and connected with the community, meeting people in their fields, apprenticing," he says. "I knew what I wanted to do, and Evergreen enabled me to go do it." —Ian Hanna

Both studied with Evergreen faculty member Paul Butler, who is now a member of NCF. They have had initial conversations with faculty members about introducing a working demonstration forest area to the college, similar to the Evergreen Organic Farm. “It’s important to put forestry in an educational context, and help students develop an understanding of how forests change over time,” says Hanna. “It’s not just about hiking through them and admiring their beauty, but building a whole new type of interaction which both provides for people and benefits the forest.”

Visionary forest management integrates the forest’s own wild patterns, maintaining its natural diversity and vigor, and includes fixing problems that humans have historically caused rather than simply hoping the forest will overcome them. It could also train students for new “green” jobs in the carbon economy.

“Evergreen could make a great contribution to the art and science of forest management,” says Hanson. He and Hanna envision teaching students ways to enhance forest resources and restore habitat, as well as optimizing the forest’s ability to produce a wide range of forest products while sequestering carbon and reducing the college’s carbon footprint. www.nnrg.orgw Carbon offsets are another untapped market that NCF is working to grow. In March, they launched NW Neutral, a first of its kind program that connects small forestland owners like Wild Thyme Farm who wish to sequester additional carbon in their forest with businesses looking to offset emissions. The first buyer of these carbon offsets through the program is Seattle green building materials retailer ecohaus.

“Carbon offsets could create a new market for small forest landowners that would keep working forests working,” said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, who attended the celebration of this pioneering effort. “In these challenging economic times, we must innovate ways we can simultaneously fight climate change and protect forestlands from conversion.”

tree illustration - graphic

More than 20 percent of net global carbon emissions come from forest degradation and loss—the second leading contributor to carbon emissions worldwide after fossil fuels, according to The Nature Conservancy. “In the Pacific Northwest, there’s been a significant change of forest land to houses,” explains Hanson. In addition to the carbon released by logging, manufacturing, etc., fewer forests prevent the land from continuing to absorb carbon.

“If we could put what nature does for us in monetary terms, people could see the real price of the forests, the water quality, the habitats and biodiversity they provide,” Hanna explains. “Forests are the best mechanical means to suck carbon out of the air. Carbon offsets are the kind of products the market wants. And if we can offer $20 per metric ton of CO2 sequestered, that’s incentive for small forest landowners to manage their forest for growth instead of simply selling the wood for fiber production.”

NCF helps landowners by inventorying and monitoring carbon dynamics in forests. It’s important to have hands-on verification showing the changes over time, so they can quantify the benefits the forest provides.

“It’s an opportunity for landowners to differentiate themselves in the marketplace,” says Hanson. “We’re using an established, international verification system to recognize people who are managing their forests in this way.”

Almost everything we buy is somehow related to forest products— it’s either made of wood or fiber, or it’s been packaged and shipped using forest products. Even most foods include gums and resins from forests. And 15 percent of timber in the world has been illegally harvested.

“The way we spend money transforms the world,” says Hanna. “You vote every time you pay.”

Now, markets exist where consumers can choose directly what they buy. Hanna and Hanson encourage a “farmers market” of the forest industry, directing people to local sources for the wood products they need. The Puget Sound FRESH program, a consortium of Seattle-area farmers markets, co-ops, and farms, is working to add forest products, both wood and non-timber products like berries and mushrooms, to their offerings.

“We couldn’t have done this five years ago,” says Hanna. “This is the perfect time. The current economic crisis is the opportunity to wake people up. What we do now about creating economic value and being honest about the costs of our natural systems can keep us from ending up here again.”

Photo: Carlos Javier Sánchez ‘97