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How to forgive for clear cutting

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POSTED: December 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.
My friend Cody Laird is so passionate about longleaf pine forests that his wife sometimes wishes she were a longleaf pine.
“I’d get a lot more attention!” she says.
Ten years ago, Cody was a tree farmer on a large tract of rolling hills his family owns along Warrior Creek in southwest Georgia.
“We had forestry consultants managing our place,” he explained. “I believed them. I agreed to whatever they suggested.”
But he lost faith in the timber managers.
“One day they showed me a stand of mature pine,” he said, “complete with wiregrass ground cover. They suggested that the site be clear-cut and replanted with a fast-growing variety of pine. Right then, I knew that if we continued that kind of management, we wouldn’t have anything left.”
Not long after Cody experienced his epiphany in his woods, he was invited to Ichauway, near Newton, once the quail-hunting preserve of Coca Cola’s Robert Woodruff, now a biological research station.
“When I saw those beautiful forests at Ichauway, I said to myself, ‘This is what I want.’” Cody began to educate himself and immediately took over management of his family’s forests. He deeply regretted the bad advice he had received. He wished he had been given more far-sighted alternatives, such as selective cutting that brings in a profit while leaving a forest intact.
He decided to restore what had been lost.
At 64, Cody understood that he would not live to see his forest returned. Instead, he was driven by a belief that he was creating something longer-lasting than his own span of years.
“I want to make up for my past sins of omission and lack of attention,” he said.
That first winter, 1999, Cody bought 10,000 longleaf pine seedlings and began to plant them in openings that had been cleared for wildlife food plots. A decade later, Cody has planted hundreds of thousands of longleaf seedlings on his land. He has begun to replant wiregrass and many other native plants. He plans to keep bringing back the pieces of the system.
“Once I saw a fox squirrel,” he said, “looking at me from around a stump. He was leaning around, looking, as if to say, Where have you been?”
I’ve heard it said that instant gratification isn’t fast enough for most Americans. Not Cody.
“I might see those trees get 30 years old,” he says. But that’s gratification enough.
Once Cody sent me a Gary Larson cartoon in which a group of the king’s men are gathered at the bottom of a stone wall, around a very broken Humpty Dumpty. The tagline says, OK, you guys have had your shot at it. Now it’s the horse’s turn.
Now it’s Cody’s turn.

Ray is co-editor of "Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf," published by the Red Hills Writers Project.
 

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