A Trip to Hyla Woods: Alumni Family Supports Experiential Learning

“There’s something in partnering with community you know to do something meaningful,” says seventh grade English teacher Christa Kaainoa. Christa’s class joins Jesse Lowes’ seventh grade science class on their trips to Hyla Woods every fall. For the past eight years Jesse’s class has collected data on the health of the creek in Hyla Woods, trying to help owner Peter Hayes ’74 answer the question of whether his efforts to grow a forest that’s ecologically complex, economically viable, and environmentally responsible are successful.

“We get stream data, and that’s useful, but that’s not the most important outcome,” says Peter. “I think the larger point is educational processes that help students think about how you pay attention to a place, and how you reach educational goals by doing real work. I really love seeing their excitement, their interest, their teamwork.”

The relationship with Hyla Woods is an integral part of experiential learning at Catlin Gabel. Hyla Woods co-owners Peter Hayes ’74, Ben Hayes ’07, and Molly Hayes Martin ’10 spoke with us about their work in forestry, how climate change impacts that work, and the correlation between land management and education.

Your family has a long history with forestry work. Why is it important to you to continue that work?

Peter: Our family’s been involved with forests, forestry, and saw milling since before the Civil War. We’ve worked through phases that parallel the history of European settlers in forests in North America. My father, right out of college, went to work setting chokers in logging operations in southern Oregon and had connections working in the woods. After selling his business, he began investing in the lands we have now. My wife and I decided to leave what we were doing in the Seattle area in 2003, moved back here, became much more involved than we already were, and eventually became managers of the business.

Ben: I got into it mostly because of growing up around forestry. After working for nonprofits,I realized I really liked working with land and being outdoors. I was interested in thinking about what the future of land and people looks like. I went back to forestry school. After graduating, I worked again for a nonprofit for a couple of years and then started my own forestry business.

Molly: Humans have a long history of mistreating land and ecosystems, and I see our work of exploring new ways of managing forests as a step toward building more sustainable systems. Making a positive difference in the world can seem overwhelming in the face of climate change and global biodiversity loss, but helping steward a piece of land is a tangible way to create the change I want to see in the world. 

Forestry work necessitates long-term thinking and planning. How has climate change influenced your planning? Or your perspective on forestry work for the future?

Peter: I’d say climate change runs through all that we do. A key thing that’s clear to us is that instead of climate change being something that might be out in the future and might affect us, it’s here; and, we live with the impacts of it. We wonder and worry about how our forests will respond to these new, climate-related pressures. We've been taken a little off guard because some parts of the forest that we thought would be most resistant to new pressures have been the least. We’ve had some serious die-offs in parts of the forest that we’re most fond of, so that’s been really troubling. I think we all need to be part of solutions, which means we need to think about what we’re doing, and how we can do it better. For instance, a priority for us is figuring out how to operate in an industry that’s highly dependent on fossil fuels. How can we imagine and recreate a system of forestry that is much less dependent on them?

Climate change is a thread that runs through Ben’s work. Some of his clients have capitalized on the ability to monetize what they’re doing around carbon. Not only are there challenges, but there are opportunities. We need to be committed to hanging on to the things that are good and we want to keep, but also ready to address the problems which we can fix.

Ben: The work I do has two main climate intersections. One of them is mitigation, storing carbon in forests. Clients either do this voluntarily because it’s accomplishing good things for the planet, and we’re stewards of a greater public good, or they sell carbon credits. Mitigation is an increasingly important piece as you think through forest management.

The parallel piece is adaptation. As Peter said, things are changing and have changed. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. So how do we work with forests to create a model that’s more resilient and able to weather these changes and extreme events more than the current model that has remarkably little ecological resilience.

As these extreme weather events take place, trees become much more susceptible to pest and pathogen outbreak, in particular. As Peter alluded to, there is drought stress killing trees, but you also get trees with a much greater susceptibility to a whole range of other kinds of exogenous environmental factors. That’s most of what we’re dealing with. 

“It is clear to me that learning grows best when rooted in something real, such as a forest or a creek. My students’ field work at Hyla Woods leaves them more knowledgeable and invested in well-managed forests and helps ensure that the next generation understands the importance of  Peter’s efforts.” Jesse Lowes

Peter, you previously worked in education. What connection do you see between how you approach land management and how you approach teaching students?

Peter: I’ve come up with four ideas on this. One is that with both land stewardship and being a teacher, you need to take the time to start by really understanding what you’re dealing with and meet either the land or the students where they are. I have to be realistic about what’s going on and how I can be of most help.

Building on the first, a second idea is that there’s a need to focus on the trajectory and the potential of both the land and the student. And then most importantly, how do you help both reach their full potential. One of our goals is how to understand the full ecological potential of the land. I think there’s a parallel with students, as part of an educator’s job is to pay attention and help students reach their full potential. A third one, in both cases, is that my role is to be an encourager versus prescribing my will. I must let go of ego and make sure I’m not imposing opinions on the situation.

The fourth is that both are sort of faith based, in a non-religious way. There are all sorts of uncertainties about one’s impact. You do the best you can, and time will tell how that works out. You try to participate in a positive way and see where it ends up.

“While I’ve always looked for opportunities to spend time outside exploring the beyond-human world, the biology classes I took at Catlin really set me on the path to study biology and ecology in college and graduate school. I had several teachers through middle and upper school who did a great job encouraging students’ curiosity about the natural world.” Molly Hayes Martin ‘10

About the Family

Peter co-owns Hyla Woods, a family-owned business caring for three working experimental forests in the northern Oregon Coast Range. He has a BA in geography from the University of Oregon’s Honors College, and an MS in geography from the University of Washington.

Molly is a conservation biologist for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, focused on the conservation of bumble bees and other invertebrate species in the Pacific Northwest. Molly earned her master’s degree in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology from San Francisco State University, and her bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental studies from Whitman College. Molly is based in Portland, Oregon and enjoys spending her free time exploring wild places by foot, bike, ski, and boat.

Ben leads Springboard Forestry. He is also a co-owner of Hyla Woods and a board member of the Northwest Natural Resources Group. He has a Master of Forestry from Yale University, a Master of Design from Harvard University, and a BA from Whitman College. When not in the woods, Ben enjoys working on wooden boats and floating wild rivers.

You can listen to Christa and Jesse discuss their partnership with Hyla Woods on their episode of Elevate.