Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson reminds me of the foresters who frequented the mid-1950s hallways of Ashton Elementary School during my early years in the far northeast corner of that Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho.  Alex doesn't wear the Smokey The Bear hat and Ranger uniform, but he has the same well-spoken, quiet, cerebral passion for what the forest means aesthetically, economically, sociologically and to our environment.

Those foresters of my youth were stationed just steps away from my school out of the Ashton Ranger District Office of the Targhee National Forest (renamed Caribou-Targhee in 2000) created a little more than 40 years before my birth by President Theodore Roosevelt just four miles north of town across the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in an arc up both the 10,000-foot east-west Centennial and the 14,000-foot north-south Teton mountain ranges.

They frequented our classrooms as rare-for-that-area college graduate role models while teaching us about science, conservation, stewardship and the environment in that small town of 900 people surrounded by farms and ranches such as the ones homesteaded at the turn-of-the-century by my paternal grandparents and great grandparents.

Alex Johnson is the Urban Forester for my adopted home of Durham, North Carolina and the beloved tree canopy that still covers 40% of this acclaimed community, just less than the average 42.9% that covers North Carolina's cities as a whole, or about 4.6% of the state.

On average urban forests cover 27% of the cities across the nation and that’s about 74 billion trees in all, a fourth of the tree canopy of the nation. Urban Foresters manage public trees along streets and parks and encourage forest maintenance and restoration on private property such as mine where, according to a study a few years ago, if more than 80 mature hardwood as well as yellow and white pine trees had only just been planted at the time I bought the house would equal a value more than one third more than its current value in 40 years.

Alex is also currently chairman of the North Carolina Urban Forest Council spearheading an initiative to recycle trees as more than just mulch when they age out or are hacked to death for utility and cable power lines or are smothered by new sidewalks poured without the technology that would let them live or clear-cut for developments including parking lots.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates that even a decade ago, “urban wood residues in the nation’s municipal solid waste stream annually totaled 14.8 million metric tons… an amount greater than the total estimated weight of timber harvested from U.S. National Forests during that same time.”

“About 8.5 million metric tons were recovered mainly for compost and mulch.  Of the remaining 6.3 metric tons, 1.5 million were sent to combustion facilities, 1.6 million were deemed unusable, and 3.2 million metric tons were available for further processing (in other words “good wood” seeking a market.)”

Alex hopes to enlist social entrepreneurs such as the prolific TROSA headed by my neighbor and friend Kevin McDonald or the many being fostered here by Bull City Forward headed by another friend Chris Gergen who might want to rescue disposed trees from the solid waste streams across the state similar to what is done by the businesses listed below which are located in other parts of the country.  In doing so give this “green” resource another life and just maybe, as Forever Redwood does to reforest Redwood Forests, invest part of the proceeds back into planting more trees in Durham.

Horigan Urban Forest Products

Meyer Wells



Pacific Coast Lumber

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

His contribution to environmental services and managing the urban forest made an impact. This is worth noting.