Jason (David) Rutledge - BHS Class of 1968
Lynchburg News and Advance Article - March 16, 2003:
Harvesting With Horses
By Rachel Clarke
Lynchburg News and Advance
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Floyd resident Jason Rutledge is an anomaly — a logger who cares so deeply about damage to the environment that he uses one of the most expensive methods around to cut down trees.
Rutledge, who is working at Sweet Briar College this month, starts out the conventional way — he cuts down trees using chainsaws, just like anyone else.
But then Rutledge attaches the logs to the back of his Suffolk draft horse, which proceeds to carefully step her way along a path out of the forest.
Rutledge is the president of the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation, a nonprofit organization that trains loggers in the environmentally friendly, labor-intensive business of using horses to replace the large trucks used in conventional logging.
According to Rutledge, the problem with using trucks in the forest is that they have to travel along roads — and he says those roads can be more damaging to the environment than the logging itself. When loggers build roads in the woods, Rutledge says, they cause sedimentation, which washes particles into nearby streams and other water sources.
Once away from the confines of the forest, Rutledge’s method isn’t so different.
“Once we get to the landing, we use the same equipment as anyone else,” Rutledge said. The landing is where he piles up the logs that have been cut, puts them on a truck and carts them away.
But within the forest, there are a few other differences between Rutledge and conventional loggers. Often, conventional loggers practice clear-cutting — they cut down all the trees in the forest at one time.
But when Rutledge cuts a forest, he cuts down the smallest and weakest of the trees first.
“We imitate nature and harvest trees on a worst-first basis,” he said.
Rutledge and his crew leave the healthiest, oldest trees with the idea that their seeds will repopulate the forest with the best genes. “It’s the exact opposite of normal forestry,” he said.
Although this practice is unusual, Rutledge isn’t unique — there are about 15 other loggers who use horses in Virginia, and about 50 in a five-state area, he said.
That number is small for a reason. Rutledge acknowledges that his way of logging is not the most cost-effective — it is expensive and time-consuming.
But he thinks that as time goes on, people will appreciate more and more the un-quantified value of the forests, and give them their own value that would factor into the equation.
“The game is who can grow the most valuable timber per acre,” he said. “Our approach is to increase the quality.”
While Rutledge admits there is no research to back up his theory that this method will improve timber quality, he says that is because there is no one who has historically been willing to pay for such research.
And Rutledge said there is one clear advantage — while loggers can only clear-cut a forest once in a lifetime — about every 75 years — they can harvest trees his way about every 10 to 20 years.
Rutledge also supplements his income by harvesting other forest products, including gourmet mushrooms, ginseng and digitalis.
Rutledge decided to work with horses because he believes he is helping protect water and air quality, which is for the benefit of the public good.
“By protecting the forest, you protect the water quality,” he said. More trees offset carbon pollution, as well, he said. “Trees act as a carbon sink.”
Ecological benefits from the forest also include shade and wind, he said. “The forest is a powerful force on humans, and it’s taken for granted.”
And, Rutledge said, because much of the forested land in Virginia is split into parcels of 40 acres or less, his community-based approach fills the niche of small, private landowners whose main concern is aesthetics.
For now, Rutledge is very much in the minority — almost all logging in America is of the more conventional variety. But he believes that as the years go by, more and more people are going to recognize the merits of his approach.
“In reality, the forest and people are connected,” he said. “It’s not a lifeless, distant thing that we can use for our needs, and then ignore.”
Other notable exposures to Jason's business:
A & E Documentary entitled "In the Company of Horses" 2001
PBS Virginia Currents -2000
PBS Blue Ridge Excursions November 2003
Cover of the Mother Earth News 1987
Cover of the Draft Horse Journal 2002
For more information, contact the Healing Harvest Forest Foundation at:
Rutledge, President, Healing Harvest Forest Foundation