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The value of one good habit

Jeff Ackerman, Publisher
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

“We need to listen to one another if we are to make it through this age of apocalypse and avoid the chaos of the crowd.”

– Chaim Potok



I read that in my Franklin Covey manual under Habit 5, formally known as The Habit of Empathic Communication. “Seek first to understand and then to be understood,” is at the core of that particular habit.

I try to start each day by opening my 7 Habits manual, recognizing that Habit 5 is a tough one for someone who talks more than he listens. And I don’t think I’m alone in that regard. As evidenced on these Opinion Pages, there seem to be more folks seeking to be understood than those seeking to understand.




Part of that problem can be traced to labeling. We’ve already established that I am a redneck. We’ve also seen on these pages labels such as “environmentalist,” “developer,” “radical,” “left-winger” and “right-winger.” The targets of these various missiles are human beings. Most of them celebrated Mother’s Day Sunday because they actually have mothers. Most of them live here because it’s a great place to raise a family. I have yet to meet anyone here who is out to destroy Nevada County.

All of which leads me to Tim Feller.

Tim is district manager for Sierra Pacific Industries, a company that is in the business of wood. The kind of wood they are using to build my house. The kind of wood you might find in toothpaste. The sort of wood you might find in this newspaper, as a matter of fact.

Some who never met Tim, or took the time to talk to him about his business, might call him a tree killer, or refer to him in some other derogatory fashion. It’s easier that way.

But in an effort to cultivate better habits, I decided to visit Tim and understand a little bit about the wood business. Besides, Tim’s office is separated by just a few trees from mine.

It might surprise some of you to learn that Tim is an environmentalist. In fact, he probably knows more about our environment than most. In our hour-long discussion, he rattled off the names of dozens of terrestrial and aquatic species as easily as he was speaking of his children, who he also mentioned more than once.

It might also surprise some of you to learn that Sierra Pacific Industries has actually been planting more trees than it has been cutting.

“We want to know more about the land than anybody,” said Tim, who has lived in Nevada County for 27 of his 48 years. Considering that Sierra Pacific Industries owns 1.5 million acres of Northern California land, that makes sense.

It’s no surprise that California is one of the most regulated states in the nation. That makes Tim’s business probably the most regulated business in the nation.

You could argue that California is hypocritical with respect to its timber policies. The Golden State imports 80 percent of its wood products, which means it doesn’t mind cutting down trees, so long as they belong to another state or nation that doesn’t have the same strict environmental regulations. And considering its growth rate, California has a voracious appetite for wood. An average-sized home requires an estimated 15,000 board feet of timber.

Sierra Pacific has a 100-year management plan, which is required by the state. That plan addresses watersheds and long-term wildlife habitat.

Even with a 100-year plan that has passed state scrutiny, “anyone with a 34-cent stamp” can stop a harvest, according to Tim. Each project requires a harvest plan which generally cost $20,000 to $70,000 each. Sierra Pacific Industries files 12 to 15 such plans each year, helping to keep California regulators in business.

“I call that analysis paralysis,” said Tim. “It’s really a miracle that any wood is produced. It’s actually cheaper for us to buy it from New Zealand.”

With two sons and a daughter, Tim and his wife Joy are realists. “We are a dying industry,” said Tim. “Not many young people are getting into the logging business today.”

That means Mother Nature will be left to manage her own forests and she generally does that with fire. Tim believes the “million-acre” forest fire is on the horizon. Without proper management (defensible space, etc.) the fuel continues to mount on the forest floor, just waiting for a spark.

A one-hour conversation doesn’t make me a forest expert. I’m a city boy at heart and have lots and lots to learn about what’s right and wrong in the forest today. I just thought it important to remind myself that there are people behind these difficult issues and I hope to put more faces to those issues in the weeks and, hopefully, years to come.

At the very least, I understand more than I did before I met Tim, and that’s a step toward creating better habits.

Jeff Ackerman, the publisher of The Union, writes a column that appears on Tuesday. His e-mail address is


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