From the Allman Brothers Band to the Rolling Stones, Chuck Leavell’s career is a slice of rock and roll history. His soulful piano style has been at the heart of some of the genre’s greatest songs and most memorable recordings. On July 17, Chicago was treated to a special glimpse of his talent during the It’s Ours to Save concert, benefitting the American Forest Foundation
and the TREE Fund
In addition to being a great musician, Chuck is also an avid conservationist, a proud tree farmer, and a co-founder of Mother Nature Network. I recently sat down with him to discuss some of the issues that America’s forests currently face.
MNN: How did you become involved in forest conservation?
Leavell: I’m a tree farmer and I have a deep passion for it. My wife, Rose Lane, and I own and manage about 2,500 acres of tree farm in Georgia. Her family has been engaged in this for generations, so it’s really about a heritage of family stewardship. Rose Lane’s grandmother passed on and left her some land, so once we had that, we became responsible for it.
How did you learn about land management?
Well, it’s a responsibility that I take seriously, so I went on a journey of self-education. I started at the local library and got several books. I went to some of the government sources which were quite good, and, eventually, I enrolled in a correspondence course which I took while I was touring with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. That allowed [Rose Lane and me] to start actively managing our place.
What is the role of landowners in conservation?
Our mantra as landowners, as stewards, is to leave the land in better shape than we found it. Every day when I’m working on my place, I’m trying to find some way to improve the land, to make it healthier for the wildlife. Of course, trees also clean our air and our water so that’s very important. And these days we’re also talking about green, renewable, alternative and clean energy. Certainly trees can play a role in that by providing cellulosic material and biomass. These are all important things for our planet.
In your recent documentary, “A Working Forest”, the slogan “Trees are the Answer” was mentioned. What types of environmental problems can be addressed through forest conservation?
Without trees to buffer our rivers, lakes, and other water sources, we have unfiltered water, and we certainly need clean water. There was an interesting case about a decade ago where they did a study in upstate New York to determine which was more effective: Spending something like $6 billion on a new water treatment plant or going to the land owners in upstate New York and paying them to keep their land in trees to help filter the water. The latter turned out to be the smarter, sounder answer. It’s important for people to realize that trees have that effect on our water. The air is also an issue. Anyway you look at it, forests are the best way to sequester carbon. Without healthy, growing forests, we’ll be in real trouble.
Do you believe that conservationists should be focused on specific types of forests, or is a more global approach needed?
It needs to be global. There are so many different species across the world and even here, in this country, the forests in every region present different situations that need to be addressed. I also think that working forests have to be part of the plan. Forests give us the material to build our homes and schools and churches, to make books and magazines — there are some 5,000 products, from rayon to salad dressing, that depend on cellulosic material from trees — and they also provide habitat and shelter for wildlife. Some forests do need to be there, untouched. The rain forests certainly need some protection, and, in this country, we need to protect our national parks and wilderness areas. But working forests are very important, too.
What’s one thing that every American can do to help conserve our forests?
Plant a tree! Everyone lives near a neighborhood school, a park or a church. Urban forestry is a very important thing. You don’t have to live in the woods like me to plant trees. There are great organizations that help, that you can be involved with. So, plant a tree!
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You can learn more about urban forestry by visiting the TREE Fund
, or learn how you and your family can become environmental stewards by visiting the American Forest Foundation
. A special thanks to Chuck Leavell for lending his support to America’s forests, and for sharing his knowledge with MNN readers.
Inset photo of Leavell courtesy of stihltourdestrees.org