Family Forest Blog

Mary LaHood and Bob Burns, 2020 National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year Finalist

American Forest Foundation

October 27, 2020

Banner Image - Mary LaHood and Bob Burns

The 320-acre LaHood-Burns Family Forest, in Black Hawk, South Dakota, has been in Bob Burns’ family since his great-grandfather, a railroad worker, bought the land in 1887 for $675. There was no history of timber management until Bob took over the property in 1969. He was studying environmental science at Rutgers University, including courses in forestry and watershed management.

Bob began thinning some of the overgrown dog-hair areas that dominated the property. He worked by himself, selling posts to finance the project, but soon learned about cost-share programs, which enabled him to hire timber contractors to help with the work.

Bob and Mary LaHood married in 1986. Raising a family put a pause on forest management. That changed on August 15, 1994, when the lightning-caused Stagebarn Fire erupted on National Forest Service land bordering their property. Bob’s knowledge of the area was instrumental in laying out an attack plan. He guided the bulldozer operator in creating a two-mile fire line on two sides of the blaze. The fire didn’t jump the lines, and no homes were lost.

The fire refocused Bob and Mary on forest health. With the help of forester Fred Goetz, they drew up a stewardship plan and a comprehensive timber management plan, including a salvage sale of the burned property, a sawlog harvest, a post and pole sale, and precommercial thinning of the remaining accessible property.

Access had been a longstanding challenge to forest management. With Goetz’s help, Bob explained to his neighbors the benefits of a well-managed, fire-resistant forest adjacent to their homes and addressed their concerns about the impact of the gravel logging roads. As a result, many neighbors welcomed the logging project, and some adjoining landowners added a total of 80 acres to the treatment area.

Cost-sharing assistance helped them remove pines from an 18-acre hardwood area, reviving a long-lost spring that quickly attracted grouse. Turkey, deer, mountain lion, coyote, fox, squirrels, and birds benefit from the oak, chokecherry, aspen, birch, green ash, hawthorn, and other native plants that were previously inhibited by the thick pine overstory.

Today, the LaHood-Burns Family Forest is a place where neighbors hike and hunt, the family gathers to camp, youth groups experience nature, community groups learn about tree farming—and where the foundation for the next generation of family forest owners is being built.

America’s family forests are vital for clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and sustainable wood supplies. The American Tree Farm System, the American Forest Foundation’s signature program, is the country’s largest sustainable woodland program, with a network of more than 70,000 family forest owners managing 19 million acres of forestland.

American Forest Foundation

October 27, 2020

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