Logs of lodgepole pine are stacked near the entrance to Flying Moose Ranch in Larimer County. Later in the day, John Reading will load them on a trailer and haul them to a company in Ault, which will make them into carved objects such as bears. Near his cabin, Reading and a customer are loading boards of fresh-milled ponderosa pine into the back of a pickup. His customer will use these boards to make furniture such as kitchen tables and end tables.
Reading operates a certified Tree Farm on his 80-acre property in the Cherokee Park area of northern Colorado. Since purchasing the land about 15 years ago, he has acquired a skid steer, winch, trailer, portable sawmill, chipper and other forestry equipment to harvest the wood off his land. A retired software developer from Broomfield, Reading has worked over the years to hone his forestry skills and find outlets for the wood he processes into saw logs, boards, carving logs, firewood and other products.
“I’m a one-man band,” said Reading, who also happens to be a semi-professional musician. “It’s nice to have help, but I’ve got everything I need to do it myself.”
While he can work solo, Reading said he often invites his customers to his ranch to participate in the process, so they are more vested in the wood’s origin. “To drop a tree, limb it, get it to the mill, make lumber out of it and then use that lumber to create a beautiful finished product gives the customer the full experience of getting it from forest to home,” he said. “It’s a unique experience on a small scale and helps spread the word about local sourcing.”
Love of the Land
Reading enjoys the forestry work. His love of the land drives him to do the work, he said, more than the prospect of profits. Mountain pine beetle impacted his forest for several years, leaving dead trees in its wake. His goal is to remove the standing dead trees and fallen windthrow logs from his land. Processing and selling wood products allows him to do this in a financially sustainable way. He recently sold his chipper, but it had more than paid for itself by the time he got rid of it.
By removing the beetle-killed trees, Reading wants to mitigate wildfire risk, encourage wildlife to visit his property, improve the aesthetics of the forest and enhance forest health. To him, a healthy forest is not overly dense with trees, encourages a variety of trees to grow (seven tree species thrive on his property), attracts birds and other wildlife, and provides ease of access for walking or moving through the forest. Plus, when it comes to doing forestry work, “I like the exercise,” he said.
Reading’s Flying Moose Ranch is enrolled in the Colorado State Forest Service’s Forest Ag program. Reading said participating in the program is more than just for tax incentives – the CSFS offers a valuable resource for guidance in managing his forest. Working with the CSFS, he updated his forest management plan in 2018, and he has received referrals from his listing in the CSFS Forest Products Database.
In 2021, Reading was named the Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year by the Colorado Tree Farmers, a landowner network co-sponsored by the CSFS. Mike Hughes, a CSFS forester, said Reading is an example of a landowner who has done a remarkable job of finding outlets for the wood that comes off his land. “John is one of those foresters at heart,” Hughes said, “and he is very innovative about selling forest products.”
Reading offered some advice to fellow foresters-at-heart and other forest landowners who want to harvest and sell wood off their land: Don’t skimp on your tools (and keep them sharp), engage help when you need it, learn all you can and prioritize safety.
“Respect your tools – respect your trees,” he said.