OGA saves the forest and patio furniture, too
By Bill Strubbe
A conundrum between environmentalists and loggers has long been how to supply lumber for homes, decking and furniture while maintaining viable forest habitats and watersheds for the future. This is often viewed as an either/or struggle, but Raul Hernandez of Annapolis' Old-Growth Again (OGA) Restoration Forestry and Forever Furniture believes that his organization may have achieved a happy medium.
"We're not a preservation organization, but rather a conservation nonprofit that restores forest lands yet also harvests timber for firewood and furniture," explains Hernandez, 45, who divides his time between Graton and Annapolis. "Our limited harvest rate actually allows the forest to grow bigger."
Experiencing an existential crisis in his late 20s, Hernandez jettisoned a promising journalism career in Miami to study instead at an ashram in Marin. Eventually frustrated with certain aspects of monastic life... and what he sees as the self-perpetuating politics of organizations such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, he set out to synchronize his spiritual ideals with environmental work.
Joining the Institute for Sustainable Forestry and delving into books--particularly Gordon Robinson's 1988 The Forest and the Trees: A Guide to Excellent Forestry--Hernandez found his knowledge literally taking root in 1994 through the purchase of a tract of 40 steep acres above Sea Ranch that had been clear-cut in the 1950s and '60s. Through backbreaking work, Hernandez and his partner, Frank Marrero of Fairfax, restored the ravaged hillsides acre by acre. Living in a solar-powered cabin, they thinned out the tan oaks, manzanitas and poison oak, and loped off hundreds of redwood trees' lower branches to raise the canopy, allowing more light for the 5,000 fledgling conifers OGA plants annually. With the help of a sturdy pair of Percheron horses, Sparky and Ike, smaller trees were hauled out without damaging the land, and sold as firewood.
Hardwoods presently comprise about 50 percent of OGA's trees, but over the next 20 to 30 years the nonprofit aims for stands of about 80 to 90 percent conifers. And instead of allowing some 1,000 trees to crowd an acre, as some timber growers do, their goal is to return the land to its original state of about 100 to 150 larger, higher-quality, trees per acre.
With firewood sales, charitable donations and grants covering only a portion of the thinning costs and the seedling nursery, a furniture component was initially born in 2000 as a gift for patrons. One recipient was so impressed with OGA head carpenter Antonio Toledo's craftsmanship that he suggested the nonprofit market its redwood furniture as a means to offset conservation efforts. "It's now become our primary funding source," Hernandez explains.
The hefty outdoor furniture ranges in style from picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, porch swings, gliders, pergolas, planter boxes, garden benches, children's furniture, chaise lounges and even a double chaise lounge with a reclining back.
"Pieces can be customized," Hernandez says. "Most tables are available with benches attached or separate. Table- and benchtop corners can be squared or rounded, tabletops can come with or without umbrella holes."
Whatever a customer's specifications, OGA's Forever Furniture is unique in that all boards are cut a full 2-by-6 inches thick (most picnic tables and benches are only 1 1/2 inches thick and 5 1/4 inches wide). The extra girth significantly increases the furniture's appearance, sturdiness and durability. Pieces have been purchased by local wineries, and can also be found in a park for handicapped children in the Sierras, at the Vandenberg Air Force Base and even in the Pentagon.
The finest, tight-grain redwood that Forever Furniture makes is milled from "buckskin" logs--those trees abandoned by the original loggers that were discovered and unburied from a hillside by Hernandez and crew. Some of these well-preserved logs are a stout 4 feet in diameter and up to 40 feet long. Regardless of grade, all have a 20-year decay warranty and a plaque that reads "Proceeds Used for Forest Restoration."
The restoration continues to grow. Currently managing about 580 acres, Hernandez hopes to expand OGA's restorative work to neighboring forest tracts that might otherwise be felled by industrial, "liquidation" methods.
"The goal is to restore and preserve a healthy habitat while selectively logging out the over-represented species," he says. "We're convinced that this is, in the long term, not only better for the land, but also more profitable."
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