- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Chuck Leavell is not your average rock-and-roll tree-hugging crusader.
The accomplished pianist and Georgia tree farmer spends his touring time away from the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and George Harrison — just to name a few musical partners — telling the masses to hug trees, cut them down, use their "marvelous" resources, and then plant more trees.
That's the subject of Mr. Leavell's new book: "Forever Green, The History and Hope of the American Forest."
His 173-page book, published by Evergreen Arts, explores the history and future of America's forests. As for those who think trees and their many uses should be off-limits to humans, Mr. Leavell, the spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Association and the American Tree Farm System, thinks this would ultimately have devastating effects on the other trees, plants and animals they wish to protect in the first place.
The release of Mr. Leavell's book also coincides with the debut of his latest musical offering, "Forever Blue," a collection of piano solos showcasing the artist's extraordinary talent and recorded on his own label, Evergreen Records.
Interlaced with artistic musings, the book offers counterbalance to today's rush by green groups to fence off all trees from mankind, and to some extent, exclude mankind's very existence in nature.
"You either use it or lose it," Mr. Leavell says of the nation's forests. "If you're not going to manage it, it will be lost or will just die."
He touts trees as renewable resources that provide paper, wood, plastics, maple syrup, turpentine, medicine, soap, tires, cosmetics, perfume and artificial sweetener.
"Some would ask, why don't we use more aluminum and steel and that kind of construction materials and save our trees?" he says. "Well, I would ask, does that aluminum grow back? Does that steel grow back? Where is the biodiversity in that? There is none, it's not renewable.
"It takes 10 times the energy to produce those things and causes 10 times the pollution. We should be using natural resources like wood. It's natural, it grows back, it's a wonderful gift that we are given.
"Some of the great political and religious revolutions took hold because paper and the printing press were available so that masses of people could read the ideas and take action," Mr. Leavell writes.
The book is amusing at times, including a Rolling Stones after-concert party chat focusing on tree conservation during the '80s and '90s when Mr. Leavell toured and recorded with the band.
Mick Jagger says Mr. Leavell was "always talking about trees on tour," and the book quotes fellow Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards as exclaiming, "Oh God, Chuck's talking about trees again!"
Mr. Leavell found himself in the tree-farming business when in 1981 his wife, Rose Lane, inherited her family farm, now Charlane Plantation in Dry Branch, Ga. The Leavell family struggled for 15 years to pay off the estate taxes and was forced to sell off some land. They decided to revitalize the farm by growing and harvesting trees for pulp and saw timber while Mr. Leavell continued his musical tours.
Charlane Plantation is now used for conservation tours and tree harvesting, and as a bed-and-breakfast and commercial hunting reserve.
Over the years, Mr. Leavell writes, he has withstood a lot of "good-natured kidding" from his rock buddies about his passion for tree farming.
"When I first started out, my life at Charlane to them was a source of amusement and some bewilderment. Few could understand why I wouldn't want to live in L.A., New York, Nashville or even Atlanta in order to be in the thick of the music scene. No one really believed I lived in a rural Georgia tree farm."
Mr. Leavell has become something of an item on Capitol Hill. His home senator penned the book's foreword.
"Chuck advocates a reasoned approach to natural resource use and the sometimes contentious debate surrounding using our forest resources," writes Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat. "Chuck's global music career has given him unusual wisdom and an appreciation for balance."
Mr. Leavell represented tree farmers around the country when he testified on June 12 before the House Agriculture subcommittee on department operations, oversight, nutrition and forestry.
"What brings us together is a commitment to sustainable forestry. We practice what we preach," he said. "Each of us has pledged that we'll manage our forest lands for water quality, soil conservation, wildlife habitat, recreation, not just timber. We do this because we believe that healthy, thriving forests are important to our families, for our neighbors, our communities, and most importantly, for our kids and their kids, too."
He says he is amazed at the prevailing attitude on the state of America's forests among those he meets during his travels.
"People say to me all the time, gosh, isn't it just awful what's happening to our forest lands, aren't our forests just disappearing? Isn't it the most awful thing in the world?"
In reality, he says, America's forests today cover about one-third of the country, nearly 740 million acres. He compares rumors of tree shortages to that of a record sale.
"In music, if you sell 3 million records, well, you've got a big hit," he says. "But if your next record sells 2 million, some will view it as a loser. It's the same with trees. The forestry industry could look at statistics reflecting the health of our forests and future projections and see a bright and rosy future. But an environmental organization might look at the same information and see disaster."

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