Archive for April, 2011

“Recent experiments conducted in the woods of the Great Upper Lumber Company of Scandinavia have demonstrated the permanency of the Aerologger for use in the lumbering operations of this and other planets.”

So read the opening sentence of a 1913 article found in the publication Steam Machinery, in which author S. MacHenry described a double-plane airship capable of logging an entire forest in one flight. While meant as a humorous piece, in reality MacHenry wasn’t too far off the mark. Within the next fifty years, the use of balloons and helicopters in aerial yarding operations would become a reality.

Images of these aerial yarding techniques are featured in a new photo gallery added to our website today. The historical photos presented in the gallery document the use of balloons and helicopters in logging operations, primarily during the 1960s and 1970s.

The use of balloons, in particular, has an interesting history when it comes to log-moving technology. Balloon logging was first seen in the U.S. in 1964, when the Bohemia Lumber Company of Oregon began using a helium-filled balloon in logging operations. Company vice-president Faye Stewart was inspired in part by the use of logging balloons in Sweden, and brought the practice to the U.S. The perceived advantages of using balloons were both economic and environmental. Lifting the logs could help limit soil erosion, as logs would not be skidded along the ground. Logs also suffered less breakage moving through the air, and the use of balloons would theoretically lessen the need for additional forest road construction.

Stewart worked with the Goodyear Aerospace Corp. to develop a “V”-shaped balloon, and Bohemia soon formed a subsidiary company – Balloon Trans-Air Inc. – to manufacture and market the balloons. In the 1970s, Stewart would leave Bohemia and form Flying Scotsman Enterprises, his own balloon logging company. Other companies also began to market balloons, including Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which manufactured traditional onion-shaped balloons for use in logging operations. The U.S. Forest Service also decided to get in on the action.

In 1971 the Forest Service announced the FALCON program (Forestry, Advanced Logging, and Conservation), a research and development program for aerial logging systems. The program’s stated purpose was to “improve the ability of resource managers to predict the economic and environmental consequences associated with the use of conventional and new logging methods such as balloons, helicopters, and cable systems, singly or in combination, with the aim of providing less damaging timber harvesting methods for environmentally sensitive areas.” With its special emphasis on helicopter and balloon logging, the USFS looked to perfect aerial logging systems that would minimize environmental impact, particularly in areas of difficult access.

Below is a clip from the FHS YouTube channel featuring film footage of some of the balloon logging operations from this era:

Of course, no discussion of aerial logging operations would be complete without mention of the infamous Heli-Stat — a controversial helicopter-blimp hybrid with a tragic history. The concept of an airship combining four helicopters with a large blimp was first patented by aviation pioneer Frank Piasecki in 1961. In many ways, Piasecki’s design could be viewed as the natural extension of MacHenry’s satirical 1913 aerologger. Except that Piasecki’s was actually real. After nearly twenty years of struggling to find funding for development of the craft, the Forest Service proved an enthusiastic supporter.


Artist rendering of the Piasecki Heli-Stat.

As fantastical as the design seemed on paper, the Forest Service saw the Heli-Stat as a way to log remote, roadless regions of the Pacific Northwest. Capable of lifting 25 tons of timber and carrying loads up to five miles, the Heli-Stat was viewed as the next evolutionary step after the logging helicopter. George Leonard, then the USFS timber management chief, stated that “it appears to offer an opportunity to remove logs from areas where it is economically or environmentally unwise to put roads.” The agency approached Oregon congressman Robert B. Duncan with the idea and in 1979 he managed to get three million dollars earmarked for development of the Heli-Stat.

Piasecki began assembling the craft almost immediately at the naval air engineering center in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Using four Korean War-era helicopters and an old salvaged Navy blimp, Piasecki’s long-planned airship finally began to take shape.

Things didn’t go quite according to plan, though. The Forest Service stated that the agency would recoup any investment in timber sales from the lumber accessed with the new craft, but construction continued to go over budget. A GAO report in November 1982 estimated that the net cost of the Heli-Stat had already increased from 6.7 million to almost 32 million dollars. Critics asked if the agency was funding a balloon or a boondoggle. Journalists today would probably call it a “balloondoggle.”

Construction fell behind schedule and various technical problems plagued the development process. Navy, NASA, and Federal Aviation Administration officials all criticized the project during construction, stating that “poor quality workmanship practices have been used to build the interconnecting structure.” One Navy engineer, Louis Berman, criticized Piasecki’s use of “slide-rule engineering in an age when everyone else is using computers. You just don’t design aircraft that way.”

The criticisms proved to be well-founded. In a test run of the massive airship on July 1, 1986, the Heli-Stat failed in dramatic and spectacular fashion. On the same Lakehurst airfield where the Hindenburg crashed in 1937, the Heli-Stat rose thirty feet off the ground before the right rear helicopter broke loose and the entire craft collapsed into a burning heap. One of the five crew members was killed. It was a tragic ending to a controversial chapter in the development of log transportation technology.

Additional information:

Visit the new photo gallery:

And for additional topics, browse our previously posted subject galleries, or search the FHS Image Database.

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Curt Meine reflects on the long journey that brought about the making of the new documentary film Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time. Curt worked with Steve Dunsky, Ann Dunsky, and Dave Steinke–the folks who brought you The Greatest Good documentary–on this project.

After five years of talking, imagining, brain-storming, fund-raising, partnering, writing, road-tripping, filming, re-writing, recording, editing, test-screening, re-re-writing, re-recording, re-editing—and occasionally eating and breathing and sleeping—the first full-length documentary film on the life and legacy of conservationist Aldo Leopold is now showing at a theater near you. (Or perhaps at a library, visitors center, classroom, or film festival.) Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time premiered in early February at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, and since then in Wisconsin, California, Iowa, and Washington D.C. Some 200 other local screenings are scheduled over the coming months in communities across the country and beyond. It has been shown in Sweden and Mexico, with Croatia, India, Turkey, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and other countries on the horizon. It will have its first screening before an academic audience this weekend, at the 2011 meeting of the American Society for Environmental History in Phoenix. All of this in response to a film that was only completed two and a half months ago.

In 1988 I published Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work, the first full biography of Leopold. In researching that work, I became fully aware of the pent-up interest in Leopold, and the fact that there was a built-in audience for his story. The pressure was on, not to get published—the normal challenge aspiring writers face—but to not blow the opportunity. Fortunately, the richness of Leopold’s experience, thinking, and archival legacy carried the work forward. Similarly with Green Fire, the film production team felt confident that there was a strong existing core of interest in Leopold’s story and the land ethic; the challenge was to communicate the broader significance of that story in a compelling and coherent way.

Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold on the Apache National Forest, Arizona, 1911. (FHS Photo Collection)

In our early editorial meetings, we debated at length the basic questions: Who is our audience? What is the main message of the film? How can we most effectively illustrate and share that message? What important themes and episodes from Leopold’s life and work should we try to show? We found ourselves hung up on an essential dilemma: Do we want to create a historical documentary that will tell Leopold’s fascinating life story, or are we more interested in contemporary expressions of his ideas and influence? It might have been easier to go down either one of those paths, but instead we chose to pursue both: to weave the historical and contemporary together. To do that most effectively, the producers decided they needed an on-screen narrator and guide to make the necessary connections. Thus was I kidnapped, taken out of the role of comfortable project advisor, and put in front of the camera.

I suppose I would have put up a greater fight on this matter if I hadn’t seen that I would be sharing the anxiety, and the opportunity, with others. Back in 1988 I thought that I had made my contribution with the biography, and that I was done with Aldo Leopold. I can now see, in retrospect, that I was only beginning—that my own work as a conservationist would continually draw upon history and Leopold’s story; that in the course of that work, I would constantly cross paths with people who are continually adding new meaning, content, and direction to the land ethic. Leopold himself saw the land ethic as an expression, not of any one individual, but of a “thinking community.” In making the film, we were able to draw upon diverse members of that community—conservation biologists and urban educators, students and historians, farmers and ranchers. In rolling out the film, we have evidently been able to tap into that large community.

That community is hardly of one mind. As I write this, emails are pinging in on my laptop, bearing comments about the film from our latest screening. One correspondent has weighed in with praise for the film, but also with concern that we did not confront directly or forcefully enough the political reality surrounding climate change and other critical global conservation issues. Another correspondent has commented from the opposite side, expressing thanks that the filmmakers decided not to make a more political “message” film, which would have driven her away, but rather gave her a new entry point through which to make vital connections. Our community is evidently ready to have meaningful conversations and to engage in effective action.

Conservation, a friend of mine has taken to saying, is not merely a set of policies or programs; conservation is a journey. So it was for Leopold. He provided a focal point, a summary of his own experience, in “The Land Ethic.” As we all make our journeys, we compare notes and share insights, bemoan losses and forge connections. We write essays… and we even make movies. Along the way, we in the “thinking community” continue to elaborate and explore the land ethic. The early response to the film encourages us to believe that another phase of exploration is just beginning.

Curt MeineCurt Meine is director for conservation biology and history at the Center for Humans and Nature, senior fellow with the Aldo Leopold Foundation, and research associate with the International Crane Foundation. His books include Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work (reissued in a new edition in 2010), Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation (2004), and The Essential Aldo Leopold: Quotations and Commentaries (1999). Green Fire is a joint production of the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the Center for Humans and Nature, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Information on the film can be found at www.greenfiremovie.com.

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On this day in 1937, country music legend—and close friend of Smokey Bear—Merle Haggard was born in Oildale, California. Merle put his own spin on Smokey’s fire prevention message in this poster by declaring “Keep it Country, Keep it Green!” The poster appeared during the year Smokey turned 50. The Forest Service thoughtfully captioned the photo in case you can’t tell which one is Merle and which is Smokey. Click on the photo to see the entire image.

Smokey Bear and Merle Haggard

Smokey Bear and Merle Haggard

Merle is one of many popular singers who has lent his celebrity to Smokey’s cause over the years. However, we don’t know if Merle ever recorded that great “Smokey the Bear” song made famous by singer Eddie Arnold. Arnold sang it for a public service announcement in 1952. This video is available as an extra on our “The Greatest Good” DVD set. Country music legend and that star of the silver screen Gene Autry also recorded the song. Vaughn Monroe opted to sing his most famous song, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” in his PSA in addition to singing the “Smokey” song. But I’d bet that the Okie from Muskougee could outdo them all

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We are proud to announce the first annual Forest History Film Festival. With the approach of spring, the trees here at Peeling Back the Bark World Headquarters are in full bloom. So we thought it a perfect time to hold a film festival so we can hide from the rising pollen counts.

Below are this year’s films in order of screening. The first film starts at 10, with each film after that starting every two hours. All films are free. All screenings are in the Gifford Pinchot Multimedia Theater. Be sure to take our poll at the bottom to predict who will win the coveted Poisson d’Avril Award given to the most outstanding film of the festival!

There Will Be Wood

John Weeks Story poster


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