The success of the first tree farm marked an epoch in American forest history; by 1967 there were 32,000 tree farms scattered throughout the U.S. One result is that conservationists usually except Weyerhaeuser from the criticism leveled at most timber companies. As one of them said, "They have the best-managed timberlands in the country." A scholarly work called Timber Concentration in the Pacific Northwest
appraised the Weyerhaeuser work soberly and justly: "This family has been and is the most important in the American lumber industry, and as such the Weyerhaeusers' contribution to our culture should be discussed in general historical terms."
To get back to the original question: What does George Weyerhaeuser think of conservation? It appears to be a principal part of his work. If you plant trees that are going to be harvested in a hundred years it is only logical to think of other things that may be happening then or in the foreseeable future—to use one of his favorite phrases. Among these foreseeable developments, far less than a century distant, is an increased need for space for outdoor recreation. Last year he set up a recreation department in the corporate structure to study all the Weyerhaeuser forests and appraise the recreational possibilities they contain. "Our approach to outdoor recreation is going to be positive," he said, "not a negative reaction to increased population pressure. In the future, as recreation needs grow, we will develop recreation as a primary land use. So will all other responsible timber companies."
The success of the company's venture into the ski resort business at Jay Peak led to expansion—the original complex of ski lodge, chalet, restaurant and tramway is being expanded to include a golf course, with $10,000 homesites around the course, and two condominiums, with the apartments selling from $18,000 to $54,500.
Current projects include an area for group camping in the Weyerhaeuser woods near the Snoqualmie River. Also in the works or planned are a wilderness camp where the company's forests run along an ocean beach; a convention center in some highly scenic rural backwoods; a water-sports center on a chain of lakes; a campground area for handicapped people; a fee-hunting and fee-fishing program in which, in selected areas, sportsmen would pay the cost of replacing the fish they catch and the birds they bag.
The company is part of a group of builders trying to persuade the city of Seattle to make its new domed stadium (already authorized) of wood. On Weyerhaeuser property at Clear Lake, 65 miles from Seattle, the company is selling forest homesites. A herd of 425 elk (protected) roams the woods, the lake is famous for rainbow trout and the view of the mountains is free. A total of 240 sites have been sold at prices from $2,500 to $12,000. In the south, where ticks, snakes, red bugs and other discouragements prevent such developments and camping is rare, the company has followed another policy. Two years ago it began leasing its lands to hunting and fishing clubs, and now leases acreage in Mississippi and Alabama (where it owns 600,000 acres of pine woods) to 78 of these organizations. In North Carolina the company is developing residential parks, emphasizing such attractions as deep-sea fishing and trails for horseback riding. And there are still a few million acres whose hidden attractions have scarcely been glimpsed.
George Weyerhaeuser takes it for granted that people will always want to get out in the woods. The company's policy on recreation, embodied in a weighty document called Policy No. 60.1, Procedure 60.14, begins with a statement that the forest lands are managed to provide a continuous supply of raw materials, but where recreation needs are compatible "the lands shall be made available for public enjoyment.... Under specific circumstances the recreational values may exceed the value of any other land use.... Sites of historic interest or outstanding scenic value shall be preserved for the public enjoyment."
Weyerhaeuser was not directly involved in any of the major conservation battles that pitted timber companies against the Sierra Club and other embattled conservationists. But as the head of the most influential timber company of them all, he weighs his words on such matters. "I think I feel the way most people do when some area they value is threatened with economic change." he said. "I recognize the need for economic progress, but if the specific place involved is one I have known and loved I hate to have anything happen to it. When my brother and I were boys, my father used to take us duck shooting—this was still good duck country in those days—widgeon, green-winged teal, mallards and some pintails—and when some development affects the places where we went, I have to make allowances for my personal feelings influencing my opinion of the value of a commercial development there.
"But I think we have to distinguish between one-time projects and those with more lasting effects. Some are major developments, altering the country for all time; once they are made, it can never be brought back to the way it was before. And when the change is for all time, and involves a unique physical asset, I think we have to weigh it very, very carefully to see what price we are going to have to pay for economic progress. But others do not permanently alter a region. It can be brought back to the way it was before the change was made.
"It seems to me that as the population increases, there will be increased conflict over areas that are set aside for recreation. The need is to strike a balance between the economic impact and the recreational need. That balance will be more needed in the future when the economic impact may be greater than it is now. How it can be achieved I do not know. But I say to myself there are probably different zones, gray zones, intermediate areas, where the lines are not so sharply drawn, areas where forest management can be followed without affecting the major recreational area that should be preserved."
So far as the Weyerhaeuser forests are concerned, it is not a matter of using the lands for either commercial timber growth or for recreation. "We can have both," he said. "Recreation and forest management are compatible. Forests and wildlife go together. Fishing is not inconsistent with our economic operations nor is hunting.... Land along watercourses may be better used for summer cabins than for commercial timber. We regard recreation as a business opportunity of increasing potential. We intend to develop workable combinations of fee and free recreation to meet population needs as they are identified."