Another Giant Gone

Another Giant Gone

Left to Right, the Three Amigos: John McBride, Russ Hudson and Gene Yavah

Editor’s Note: John McBride, 90, a legendary forester from Libby, Montana, died at his home March 11, 2018. Mr. McBride and his two colleagues, Gene Yavah and Russ Hudson, were the forestry brain trust for the long-gone J. Neils Lumber Company for decades.

Although the Neils family sold its mills and lands in Montana and Washington to the old St. Regis Paper Company in the 1950s, the trio continued to manage the Neils land base in northwest Montana until Champion International, its next owner, sold to Plum Creek Timber in the 1990s. Plum Creek recently merged with Weyerhaeuser.

Few know it, but the Neils family hired a PhD silviculturist from the University of Washington to write 100-year management plans for their lands near Libby and Klickitat, Washington. McBride, Hudson and Yavah followed that plan during their Neils-St. Regis-Champion years. It was our great pleasure to tour and photograph the northwest Montana lands with trio about 15 years ago. The photo here is one of many we took.

Mr. McBride was a tree farmer, horse lover, gun collector, hunter safety instructor, military historian, World War II veteran and 1952 graduate of the University of Maine School of Forestry.  His long-time friend, Bruce Vincent, an Evergreen Foundation board member, delivered the eulogy, adapted from an earlier essay I wrote titled, “And God Made a Logger,’ in turn adapted from a Paul Harvey radio narrative titled, “And God Made a Farmer, that first appeared as an editorial in a Kansas weekly newspaper, sometime in the early 1950s.

So, God Made a Forester

Bruce Vincent

And on the eighth day, God looked down on the earth he had created and said, “I need an old school conservationist, someone who will care for the forests I’ve created, someone who understands that I planted these forests for man’s pleasure and needs.”

So, God made a forester.

God said, “I need somebody who will get up at three o’clock in the morning and drive a hundred miles into the woods, just to get to the trees I want him to manage, so that my forests will continue to grow and provide shelter for the billions of people who will populate my earth.”

“I need a man with the strength of a mule who can walk-up and down brush filled mountain faces with a gunny sack full of tools all day long, rain, snow or shine.”

“I need a family man who always has time for his wife and children, even when he is dead tired, a man who teaches his children how to love their spouse and the importance of honesty and the value and fun of hard work.”

Then God said, “I need a careful man willing to face danger, because working in the woods will be dangerous work. Some men will die there, crushed beneath falling trees, or killed by a falling limb they never heard or felled by a lightning strike hitting their lonely lookout post.”

“I need an artist who can see through the biological desert of a decadent stand of dead and dying trees and see a future healthy forest brimming with biodiversity.”

“I need someone who is devoted to his community, who can go home after a long day in the woods, eat supper and go to a town meeting that won’t end until way past bedtime.”

So, God made a forester.

Then God said, “I need a man with simple faith, someone who doesn’t get discouraged when his prospects look dim, a man who faces every day with a smile on his face, even when he doesn’t know what the day will bring.”

“I need an innovator, a problem solver with practical skills that only years of woods experience can teach, a man who isn’t afraid to try something new, even if the textbooks say it can’t be done. “

So, God made a forester.

God said, “I need someone with the constitution of an ox, someone who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, someone who sees opportunity in life’s disappointments and is willing to just keep going when nothing else seems to work.”

“I need a mechanical wizard who can fix almost anything, anytime, anywhere with a nine-sixteenths socket wrench, a screwdriver and a roll of duct tape.”

“I need a man who takes pride in his work and manages our forest carefully, someone who will go the last mile to be sure that the streams just down the hill are protected and the wildlife that relies on the forest is cared for.  Someone who never forgets that the soil beneath his feet is where the next forest will grow.”

So, God made a forester.

God said, “I need somebody with a generous heart willing to give up his weekends when he’d rather be home napping on the couch, a man willing to help out at the back-country horseman, teach the next generation hunter’s safety, lead the local rod and gun club, build a zip-line to keep the neighborhood kids enthralled with the out-of-doors, or take his son or daughter’s youth group on a camping trip in the same woods that break his back during six day work weeks.”

So, God made a forester.

“I need a man with the patience of Job, who can overlook the insults hurled at him by people with no appreciation for the wonderful work he does, someone who will explain for the umpteenth time that forests aren’t fragile, that the last forest will be replaced by the next forest and that trees turned into lumber are the best building material I ever made.”

“I need a man who won’t turn his back on the less fortunate, someone who will open his family home to friends or strangers in need of a leg up, a warm meal, or a pillow for their head.”

So, God made a forester.

“I need someone who loves the woods as much as I love them, a big man who admires wild areas, trout streams, elk herds, birds and wildflowers as much as he respects the forests that put food on his table and a roof over his head.”

Then God said, “And last and most important of all, I need a father and a teacher with integrity who will serve as a model of how to be a man and won’t discourage the next generation from following in his footsteps, because I will always need real conservationists and stewards of my forest.”

So, God made Mac.

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