GOLD BAR — Washington state’s woodlands are buzzing — with humor.
As foresters spend lonely months toiling in the wilderness, they have a chance to connect with their inner wordsmith. They get to put their wit on display while preparing patches of public land for timber auctions. They choose the name, the catchier the better.
That’s led to harvests called Hello John and Hey Louie. There’s Bring it On, Just Swale and Ginger Beard Man. Boondocks, Boondoggle and Booyah. Bocce, Bolero and Boss Hawg. Chicken Little and Chicken Sandwich. Face Off and Face Plant. Smarty Pants and Soggy Bottom.
“What’s cool about it is, it gives foresters who work out in the woods alone a lot of chances to give their own personal touch,” said John Moon, a state Department of Natural Resources unit forester in the Skykomish Valley. “It leads to a sense of ownership in the project.”
Harvests sprinkled throughout millions of acres of DNR-managed working forest and conservation areas pay tribute to movies and TV shows. Some get their own section.
Famous lines from “The Big Lebowski,” the 1998 cult classic about a slacker called The Dude, inspired Abide, Lotta Strands and Over the Line.
Newman, Festivus, Pumpernickel, The Moops and Yadda Yadda all come from the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
“We want them to be professional, stand-alone names, but they can be whimsical,” Moon said.
With up to 150 timber auctions every year, there’s ample opportunity for word play.
One of Moon’s contributions is American Royal. It’s a nod to his Midwestern roots. The name comes from a combined livestock show, rodeo and barbecue competition held each year in Kansas City.
The 31-year-old is following a long-running practice in Washington and beyond.
Bernard Bormann, a professor with the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, has pored over timber data going back to the 1960s. Though generally more staid, names — rather than boring numbers — have been a constant.
“It seems to be a tradition in forestry,” Bormann said. “You’re out there laying out timber sales, which is not an easy job. You’re in the brush, it’s wet, you’re traipsing around, hiking difficult terrain. It’s a way to lighten the load and make it easy to remember. It’s a form of entertainment for them, too.”
Robyn Darbyshire, a Portland-based silviculturist with the U.S. Forest Service, said her agency generally sticks to geographical names for harvests: a mountain or a butte, a river, watershed or some other feature.
“It helps you identify where you are,” Darbyshire said.
That hasn’t stopped folks from having fun. The Pistol River in southern Oregon sparked Derringer and other gun names.
“You’re on a team when you’re planning these things,” Darbyshire said. “You get some creative synergy going sometimes.”
A memorable blooper came in 2000, courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management. The actress Goldie Hawn took exception to an Oregon timber sale dubbed “Goldie Fawn.” She fired off an angry letter. The bureau renamed the harvest, which also was controversial with environmentalists.
Late last month, Moon and two foresters he supervises parked along May Creek Road near Gold Bar. They trekked through shoulder-high salal, trying not to trip over trailing blackberry, to mark off trees they wanted loggers to leave alone when they cleared the surrounding area. They planned to mark eight trees per acre, generally in clumps, to protect wildlife and help the forest grow back.
There are many different kinds of cuts, some intensive, others low density. There are thinnings, salvages and sorts. Sometimes, that adds to the name, as in Toupee Thinning.
The sale off May Creek Road bore the humdrum name of Corner Two, supposedly a reference to a bend in the highway.
“That one wasn’t the most creative of our names,” admitted John VanHollebeke, 28, one of Moon’s DNR cohorts.
It’s a far cry from spirited tags such as Maudified, on the Olympic Peninsula, Let it Beetle, in central Washington, or Sultan Pepper, near a certain city in east Snohomish County. A harvest where rampant target shooting left much of the timber unusable became AK.
Other blocks of timberland pay tribute to rock bands, abandoned appliances, mushrooms, cheese, Norse mythology, golf, cars and horses.
VanHollebeke, a Vermont transplant, has been with the DNR about three years. He’s itching to name his first sale. He’s brainstormed a long list at his workstation. A top contender: Game of Cones.
While leaving Corner Two, the thick brush conjured up a more exciting identifier in his mind: “Had we had a chance to come out here before we named it, we would have called it Sea of Green.”
The third DNR co-worker that day was Dan Hohl, 27. Originally from upstate New York, he considers Western Washington “a forester’s dream.” With less than two years at the DNR, he’s also awaiting his turn to name a harvest.
With their geographical breadth, the three foresters know that dreaming up funny names for timber harvests happens throughout the country. They’ve also encountered one particular cliche far and wide.
“If you go to any state, you’ll find timber sales named after bears,” Hohl said.
They’re trying to avoid any more.
The harvest names may never appear on regular maps. Unlike official place names, they only have to pass muster with a DNR district manager, to avoid potential offense or confusion.
It’s less formal than the state’s multi-layered process for naming lakes, mountains, streams and other geographic features. There’s a committee to make recommendations for those, with the Board of Natural Resources as the final arbiter.
Moon has come up with an idea for his next harvest: Timber Toe. It comes from a character’s peg leg in an American literary classic.
“I’ve been reading ‘Moby Dick’ and thinking that was kind of fun, that was kind of unique,” he said.
Some common themes
Quirky names abound on state timberlands. Here are some of the most unusual sale names, by theme.
Abandoned appliances found on DNR lands: Egg Timer, Tanning Bed, Microwave, Frying Pan, Toaster Oven and Electric Blanket.
Rock bands: Danzig, Metallica, Zeppelin
Song titles: “Norwegian Wood,” “Paint it Black,” “Radar Love,” “Sugar Magnolia”
Plays on song names: Gunder Struck, Let it Beetle
Movies: “Mad Max,” “Rambo,” “Spaceballs,” “Strange Brew”
TV: “Gunsmoke,” “Iron Chef,” “Mr. Rogers,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Yogi Bear”
Mushrooms: White Chanterelle, Puffball, Toadstool
Norse mythology: Norseman, Thor, Valhalla
Fishing: Sea Bass, Sockeye, Steelhead, Sustainable Salmon and Waterwisp (a fly fishing pattern)
Cars: Horsepower, Hot Rod, Passing Lane
Horses: Sea Biscuit, Spotted Appaloosa, Steed
Cheese: Gouda, Havarti, Ricotta
Other food: Bacon, Hot wings, Goulash, Marinara, Paprika, Pierogi, Porkchop, Prime Rib, Rib Roast, Ribeye, Shredded Wheat, Strawberries and Cream, Sweet N Low, Vanilla Bean