Rolling Stones keyboardist embodies the importance of working forests


Many advocates of working forests may not know that they have a friend in the Rolling Stones. It’s not as if one of the biggest bands in the world is a place most foresters would look to for an ally, but they probably haven’t met Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell.

Leavell, also famous for playing with the Allman Brothers, and his wife inherited a Georgia forest in the early 1970s that now spans 2,800 acres, and he’s since become one of the highest profile advocates for working forests in the country. Just this week, USA Today and the New York Times wrote profiles on him, which provide an excellent vehicle to communicate the importance of sustainable forestry.

These profiles came about because Leavell was recently honored by the Pacific Forest Trust for his environmental advocacy. He’s also been named a U.S. Forest Service Honorary Forest Ranger, Tree Farmer of the Year by the American Tree Farm System and is the author of two books on forestry. He’s the co-founder of the Mother Nature Network, one of the world’s largest sites for environmental news.

To provide a sense of Leavell’s reach, quoted in his USA Today profile this week are President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Leavell’s comment to USA Today about the Mother Nature Network encapsulates his approach to environmental advocacy.

“The environment really doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat,” he says with an ever-present smile. “We’re really in this together, and our job at MNN is to help find common-sense solutions to the issues we’re all facing.”

Leavell also understands that some people may think his rock ‘n’ roll job and forestry background make for a strange combination.

“I suppose for some people, it’s weird that this rock piano player is also into forestry, but to me, it’s all linked together,” says Leavell, putting on a long black overcoat before heading for his flight home. “I was a child of the ’60s music scene, and the realization that we all can get together to solve our problems never left me.”

He’s helping to change some people’s perceptions, as his Q-and-A this week with the New York Times shows.

NYT: Not everyone appreciates that a tended landscape is very much an environmental asset. Rene Dubos familiarized me with the idea that a humanized landscape can be a beautiful thing. That’s clearly part of what you’re talking about?

Leavell: There’s no more important natural resource than wood. So many wonderful things come from that resource of wood – that marvelous thing called a piano, your guitar, the fine furniture we all enjoy, building materials for our homes. And let’s remember this is a material that is natural, organic and, most importantly, it is renewable. When you look at the big picture the use of wood is a great thing as long as we’re using it sustainably, and we’re planting, managing and growing more timber than we’re harvesting.

Whether it’s writing a highly circulated op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of paper products or being honored by the U.S. Forest Service just weeks after receiving a Grammy, Leavell walks the talk.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell summed it up well.

“We are grateful to Chuck for using his platform as a world-famous musician to help spread the word about the importance of sustainable forest management,” Tidwell said. “When Chuck talks, people listen.”