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Bruce, the "long looker"!
General News · 2nd August 2014
As the standing ovation extended into its second minute, Bruce Ellingsen could think of nothing else to do but to look down at his shoes. Perhaps it was a signal of humble submission, a way to abate this spontaneous display of admiration from the audience that wouldn’t diffuse on its own. After a long while, with a wry smile, he looked up again. What else can you do, if they just keep applauding?

Last Thursday night was the end of an era here on the island. After a quarter of a century of standing in the vanguard of the local eco-forestry movement, Mae and Elmer’s son officially resigned from the Board of the Cortes Community Forest Co-operative. That doesn’t mean you won’t hear Bruce promoting a two hundred year rotation for harvesting fir and cedar any more, it just means he won’t be dedicating a bunch of his time, pretty much everyday, towards molding the new stewardship of the woods.

Of course, if you don’t know, the tenure has been granted, the Operating Plan is in its final stages, and a manager is due to be hired in the fall. While there are still years of development directly ahead, it’s not like Bruce is bailing on a failure. He is stepping aside gracefully at the culmination of his triumph.

Bruce said he wanted to make way for others to have more say, and invited younger people step in and take up more leadership. As an additional reason for his departure, he claimed to be “somewhat frayed around the edges”. Still I’m not so sure about that, for Bruce looks reasonably “unfrayed” for a guy in his forties, and that Bruce actually has children in their forties just makes my head spin.

Of course, Bruce hasn’t created this result alone. One can’t mention the Community Forest success without tipping ones hat to Kathy Francis and Chief James Delorme, Sedley Sweeney, Ron Wolda and Liz Richardson, David Shipway, Kristen Scholfield-Sweet and Kevin Peacey, and a host of others the naming of all of whom would put me well over the word limit here.

Still, it was Bruce’s night. Ryan Harvey is often heard telling a story that sums up the reason for the adulation. Years ago Ryan, it seems, had gone to get lumber from Bruce’s sawmill only to have Bruce tell him that he was short on wood but was getting a load of logs barged in soon. Standing under the towering firs and cedars on Reef Point Farm, Ryan then remembers suggesting to Bruce that it looked like there was lots of wood right there to choose from, to which Bruce replied “my grandchildren may want to build homes on this island and I’m saving these trees for them”. That’s Bruce the “long looker”. While most of the world can’t see past the profits for this quarter, a conversation with Bruce often examines multiple centuries during just one sentence.

Hardcore capitalists always seem to borrow from nature, and yet never get around to paying her back. Hardcore environmentalists seldom want to see anything taken to provide for human comfort. Here, we may be seeing a new “middle road”, with visionaries like Bruce who are trying to find a balance point where harvest now doesn’t mean scarcity later.

In case you haven’t ever met Bruce, let me attempt to recite one of his most popular metaphors. Bruce says “Forestry is a predator-prey relationship”. That means we are the predators and the trees are the prey. So, first Bruce has accepted his predatory instinct, and there is some real honesty in that which would serve most politicians well to learn.

Then he did a lot of research into predator-prey relationships – like wolves and deer. After years of poking around, Bruce is confident that most predators only “harvest” 15% to 20% of the prey at a time. Indeed, wolves are known to limit their breeding when the deer population is low rather than risk wiping out too many prey. Only stupid predators take all the prey at the same time – and wolves aren’t that stupid, industrial loggers on the other hand … may go extinct soon.

Anyway … back to last Thursday. Some of Bruce’s singing partners turned up to give him a rousing send off and he joined in. The audience clapped politely, but there was no repeat standing ovation for Bruce’s musical talents.

Then an election commenced to fill empty board seats. When the nominations were opened, Bruce was the first one nominated. Everyone laughed, but still people glanced over hopefully to see if maybe he couldn’t be lured back. However, there was no such luck. There’s nothing harder to trap though than a cagey predator who isn’t greedy for more, more, more.

Bruce has set a fine example of that during the last three decades - let’s see what the next few generations can do.