Words from the Woods

July | 2022


Dick Cooper, ACF (Ret.)

Special Note: Dick Cooper, ACF (Ret.) and his wife Jan Tennant attended ACF’s Western Regional Meeting in Boise, Idaho. Following interactions with students who had received scholarships from the Practicing Foresters Institute (PFI) to attend the meeting, he sent a generous donation to the PFI Scholarship Fund after the event. During the 2022 National Conference, PFI leaders presented Dick and Jan with a plaque in appreciation for their contribution. As he was unable to attend the conference, Dick provides these remarks in appreciation for the recognition in our July blog post.

I’ve been lucky. Like most older ACF foresters, I was born male and of white parents in America. I married an invaluable partner. My wife, Jan, tells everyone getting married to, “Forget the romance and gaga, you’re going into business with this person, and it will be the hardest job you will ever have.” Credit is due to her for our luck.

I was lucky to graduate from Michigan State University in 1968 with a degree in forest management, and much of my success is due to my forest economics professor, Dr. Robert Marty. In the lab portion of his five-hour class, he took each student through a scenario of being a consultant forester for a fairly large, make believe, landowner. From offering advice on purchasing various tracts, to writing management plans, and from establishing allowable cuts, to the power of compound interest–everything we do as consultants was covered. I got a 100 percent on the final.

In 1968, I was hired over the telephone by the State of Idaho with the duty station of St. Maries in the panhandle of the state, in the middle of the Western or Idaho white pine, inter mountain conifer forest. My forest fire professor was more excited than I was about going to St. Maries, as it was a big move for me and the family. It lifted my spirits when he described I’d be right in the 1910 burn and regrowth.

I packed up, headed west, and arrived in St. Maries on the 4th of July in a snowstorm. What had I got us into? I overnighted in the fire station and office parking lot and was awakened by a rapping on the window and a “What are you doing here?” When I said I was reporting for duty as a new forester, I was met with the reply, “You just made the biggest mistake of your life.” I guessed that was what every new forester was told.

While the duty station was in St. Maries, my work was about 100 miles south in the North Fork Clearwater River drainage. A five- township block of state endowment land, the North Fork of the Clearwater had escaped catastrophic stand replacement for 200 to 400 years. The virgin white pine and western larch would be limb free for 100 to 120 feet, and then would leave the 120-to-140-foot canopy of grand fir, western hemlock, western red cedar to blossom above the canopy for another 40 to 60 feet. It was magical, almost spiritual.

We were room and boarded at Boehls Cabin, a timber protective association outpost formed after the 1910 fire. Boehls cabin was nestled in an ancient grove of western red cedar trees four to ten feet in diameter that had escaped stand replacement for 3,000 to 4,000 years.

Our main job was to administer and sell 10 to 15 million board feet of timber for the “last log drive in the U.S.” down the North Fork to Lewiston, Idaho. At the time, the mill was the largest white pine sawmill in the world capable of sawing one million board feet per day, so our 10 to 15 million feet of logs was good for about two to three weeks.

My luck continued got a position with the Forest Inventory Program in Boise, Idaho in 1971. Ray Miller, my supervisor, was instrumental in my development, nudging me in the right direction. I inventoried three of the nine administrative districts in the state and set allowable cuts for the state.

Like many western states, when Idaho became a state, the federal government granted Idaho endowment trust land. The proceeds from the lease or sale of land and sale of timber goes into this endowment fund for public institutions including schools, prisons, hospitals, etc. From 1971-1976, the inventory was under my leadership. The state was cutting 220 to 250 million board feet annually and the endowments were receiving between $100 to $150 million in principle.

If I was promoted, my next assignment would have been an office job in the capital building. But I was not yet 30 and wanted to get back into the field. So, we returned to Michigan.

Our return coincided with the regrowth of the Northern Hardwood Forest, which was just coming online for the second harvest. I collected unemployment for a couple of months and made halfhearted attempts to find work until the unemployment supervisor took me aside and said, “I might have a job you might be interested in, but you don’t have to take it as your last salary was much higher.” With that, I began work with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fishery Division to sort trout out from the fall migration of salmon up the Platte River.

The Forestry Division found out I was working at the weir and initiated my transfer into forestry. At the time, one of the first consulting foresters in the nation, George Farrar, had just retired. Bernie Hubbard, the State Forester in Traverse City, wanted me to fill George’s shoes.

Before long, we were busier than I ever expected. My next step was to join ACF. I recall Harry Murphy taking me aside at my first ACF meeting and welcoming me. Through ACF, I figured out the value of my expertise and doubled our rates. Then we really got busy.

Now if that wasn’t enough luck, I found an accountant that understood our business and we set up a retirement account. As Paul Harvey would say, that’s “The rest of the story.”

I offer sincere appreciation to ACF and to forestry. I still can’t believe I got paid good money for walking in the woods and telling people about trees! I just wanted to give something back for my good luck.