Trees are not silent partners. This Saturday, longtime touring keyboardist of rock-'n'-roll icons the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd Chuck Leavell, and Bruce Ward, former president of the American Hiking Society, are bringing awareness to Oregon's woods in their new anthology docuseries, America's Forests.
"A mutual friend, Bob Williams, a forester from New Jersey, introduced us," says Ward. "Bob had done a sustainable forestry video with Chuck and really liked Chuck's perspective. Chuck later came to Colorado and helped me out with a couple of fundraisers, like the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, that I was coordinating in Colorado with the U.S. Forest Service. The idea grew from there, but we've been talking about ideas for a series since 2012."
Each episode of the series, produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting, is dedicated to trees and contemporary related industries, from recreational tourism to the rise of cross-laminated timber. Each episode takes place in a different state, but Oregon was the first place to spring to Ward's mind.
"Portland is one of the most progressive and beautiful cities in America," says Leavell. "Portlanders are excellent stewards of their land and of their community."
Incredibly, Leavell's interest in forestry developed concurrently with his musical career. "In 1981, my wife, Rose Lane, inherited some land from her grandmother. We investigated several options for what to do with it, and settled on long-term sustainable forestry," says Leavell. "That same year, I was called to do an audition with the Stones. By the following year, I was studying forestry and planting trees and touring with the Rolling Stones."
The Oregon-centric pilot will be chopped up into three meaty, nine-minute segments. The first sees Leavell and Ward visit innovative architects from Portland architecture firm Lever, which constructs high-rise towers out of cross-laminated timber. Part two brings the men to Bend, where they interview firefighters and Forest Service employees who are working together to contemplate techniques to prevent catastrophic wildfires, while also dedicating themselves to the development of scenic mountain bike pathways.
The third segment takes us into the heart of the historic squabble between environmentalists—"old-school Oregon hippies"—and the timber industry. Today, the two have joined forces in providing habitat restoration in the Siuslaw National Forest, which is strung along the Oregon Coast.
No other episodes of America's Forests have yet to be produced, but Ward says he wouldn't mind his retirement consisting of nothing but this project.
"It doesn't just have to be America," says Ward. "It could be North America. I want to go to Canada and Mexico to do an episode someday, too."
SEE IT: America's Forests premieres on OPB on Saturday, April 1, at 7 pm. It will be available to stream on americasforestswithchuckleavell.com beginning Sunday, April 2.