The vast majority of death care providers are for-profit corporations; Herland Forest is different, and I’m delighted to relate that this summer, the IRS recognized that difference by granting Herland Forest recognition as a 501(c)(13) tax-exempt cemetery. You’ve probably heard of 501(c)(3) non-profits, but very few people have heard of 501(c)(13) non-profit cemeteries, so I’ll sketch out some of the ways that a (c)(13) cemetery differs from for-profit death care providers.
For-profit corporations are legally required to maximize the welfare of the shareholders. As a non-profit, Herland is able to focus its efforts on maximizing the welfare of both the grieving and the forest. Gaining IRS recognition as a (c)(13) will allow us to accelerate that work.
As a (c)(13), Herland isn’t focused on selling products; instead, Herland is focused on providing services to the grieving and the forest land which will provide a peaceful resting place for their loved one. Money is still part of the equation, but Herland just has to bring in enough income to be able to continue providing services; there’s no incentive to up-sell caskets. Instead, our incentive lies in finding ways to protect the forest and help the grieving find a bit of solace as their loved one’s remains serve to guard the forest from clear cutting and development.
This isn’t just a theoretical concern about forests being clear cut somewhere else. Here on the edge of the Cascadian wilderness, forests are being clear cut right now.
This is a picture of forest land that’s just a few miles down the road from Herland Forest. It was clear cut this summer. It’s true that over the next eighty years, this forest will slowly grow back, but eighty years is a long time. How much better would it have been if the forest had been stewarded and allowed to fulfill its potential?
The Pacific Northwest has a fire-based ecology, and the trees here evolved to deal with quick fires that flash through every few years in the dry months of August and September. It’s when the fallen branches are not removed that “fuel” can build up to dangerous levels. Then, when a fire eventually does come through, it can burn with such intensity that the trees themselves are destroyed and the ground is sterilized.
Modern people have disrupted the ancient cycle of small fires that clear out the underbrush and accumulated fuel. That buildup sets the stage for the catastrophic fires that are ravaging the western forests and doing such damage. We believe it’s up to people to find a way to reverse the damage that people create when they interfere with nature’s method of keeping the forest healthy and safe.
We believe that the practice of burying human remains in the forest is one of the best ways to ensure that the welfare of the forest is maintained and enhanced. By careful stewardship, a forest can become a living memorial, rather than a disaster waiting for the next lightning strike.