Land Management

In yet another step toward becoming greener and more self-sustaining, the College is tapping into one of its most plentiful resources—trees. Nearly 2,000 of the 2,600 acres that make up the Elsah campus are covered in forest. Many of the trees—mainly black and red oak—are 100–130 years old and at the end of their lifecycle. Campus land steward coordinator John Lovseth and his team have launched a plan to harvest some of the dying trees and put them to use as building material.

First, trees that have fallen or are about to fall are identified. Next, a small portion of them—roughly 0.75 percent of Principia’s forest acreage—is carefully selected for removal. Then, with the help of Dan Bechtold of Dan’s Mercantile Company in nearby Godfrey, they’re milled on site using a portable wood-mizer saw. In the final steps, the wood is taken to Dan’s, planed into boards, dried and treated, and delivered back to Principia—ready to be used for projects to enhance the campus.

So far, benches, a sugar shack, a ranger shed, and a barn have been built using Principia’s own lumber. In the works is a beautiful, new gazebo that will serve as an outdoor meeting place for athletic teams, particularly cross-country runners and coaches.

Within a year, the College hopes to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, in large part due to the work of former College professor Mike Rechlin, who began the movement toward sustainable forestry practices at Principia.

Lovseth is pleased to be putting Rechlin’s vision into action. He explained more about the project’s goals and benefits: “Our sustainable forestry plan makes sense economically and environmentally. We’re leaving plenty of older trees standing and on the forest floor to protect animal habitats and the natural decomposition process. But by clearing out some of the most aged trees, we’re ensuring the development of healthy new forest in their place. And the lumber produced provides a huge cost savings to Principia.”