Peter Stark’s North Slope Sustainable Wood company is one of the success stories of the new green movement in woodworking. A noted author and fervent environmentalist, Stark says he became an “eco-capitalist” when he suddenly found himself the owner of a “sick” forest outside of Missoula, MT. His timberland was in poor shape because it was overcrowded with tall, thin and sickly larch (also known as tamarack) trees, densely covering the mountainside and choking the life out of the other trees.
Normally in nature, forest fires would clear these smaller trees, while leaving the fire-resistant larger trees growing in well-spaced positions, making for a healthy forest ecology. It is now believed the suppression of forest fires by mankind as our population spread westward, actually caused more harm to the forests, by not allowing nature to prune and trim the undergrowth, resulting in what Stark has described as an “unweeded garden.” The overgrown state of many forests actually has increased the danger of forest fires to the public as well, since fires that start in these dense forests can more easily explode into uncontrollable blazes that threaten bigger trees, homes and lives, Stark adds.
Fortunately, recent directions at the state and national level have resulted in a movement to selectively thin forests in an attempt to restore health to woodlands. The culling of the larch trees is essential to restoring forest vitality, but the question arises - what to do with the straight, small-diameter logs of the removed trees?
Larch has long been highly prized as the hardest of the soft woods, with a hardness rating similar to cherry, teak or walnut. Its appearance has been described as honey-cinnamon with dark pin-hole knots, and because of the narrow-diameter, the logs exhibit an extremely tight grain. Despite the advantages this wood offers, because of the small diameter, no one seemed to know what to do with the culled trees besides grinding them for pulp.
Stark came across a solution to this issue when he used some of the logs removed from his property to build the floor for his wife Amy’s dance studio. The tight grain and resulting hardness of the larch boards were perfect for flooring, and not only was the floor beautiful and durable, but it also provided a way to use the trees left over from forest restoration. Thus, a business was born, and Stark found himself in the vanguard of the movement for the sustainable use of natural resources.
North Slope’s larch wood is competitively priced and business has been brisk, with orders for floors and trim, as well as supplying blanks to cabinet and door manufacturers, keeping Stark and his business partner, Matt Arno, busy. Arno, whose father Stephen was one of the first experts to propose the value of natural fire to woodlands, has his own forest-thinning business, and the company also receives wood from Forest Service thinning as well. Support from local and state officials has been strong and growing, and resulted in the company providing the flooring for the State Reception Room of the Montana State Governor’s residence.
“At that time, it had acres of white carpet with wine stains on it,” Stark says with a laugh. A local business official happened to be dining with Governor Brian Schweitzer and his wife, Nancy, and the governor’s wife mentioned they wanted to replace the carpet with wood floors. The resulting project, installed by Cam Brown Wood Floors of Helena, MT, was looked upon as a strong statement by the governor, showing his support for the sustainable industry. In fact, Schweitzer has proven an ardent proponent of sustainable resource initiatives in his state.
In the end, Stark expresses optimism that business and nature can coexist. “I see this as a solution to the battle between environmentalists and the forest industry,” he says. “This is something that makes everybody happy.”
Find out more about Peter Stark’s North Slope Sustainable Wood company at www.northslopewood.com.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.