December 2014
Outdoor Life

A Labor of Love for the Long Term

 
  Salem and Dianne Saloom are proud of the honor bestowed on them for their forest management abilities.

Dr. Salem Saloom may not see himself as a "Renaissance Man," but medical, missionary and environmental endeavors would certainly seem to define him that way.

A man of many talents, he isn’t averse to trying something new and his track record is filled with successes that have earned him state and national recognition.

After a long career as a general surgeon, Saloom shifted gears to become one of Alabama’s most honored landowners often cited as one of the state’s leading stewards of natural resources.

Toss in his involvement with "Samaritan’s Purse," a worldwide medical missionary organization, and it’s easy to see that, at the age of 66, he isn’t about to try out any rocking chairs in the near future.

He and his wife Dianne became involved in forestry 30 years ago when they bought 120 acres and slowly increased it to where, today, they have 2,200 acres to manage in rural Conecuh County, not far from Evergreen.

 
Salem and Dianne Saloom were the recipients of Private Landowner Award for Longleaf Restoration presented in DC at Celebration of Longleaf Restoration Initiative on July 22, 2014.  
   

They still live in Brewton, but have made their Conecuh property a second home. They try to spend as much time as they can surrounded by splendid rustic settings.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan is one of Saloom’s many admirers and praises him for using the family’s farm for multiple purposes.

"It’s as good a model as can be found when it comes to using a farm for recreation, hunting and timber production," McMillan said. "Dr. Saloom knows that timber can be and should be a long-term investment, not a quick source of revenue."

One look at Saloom’s membership in organizations and committees and it’s easy to understand the importance he attaches to being involved in relevant activities in the state. A good example? He’s the current chairman of the Alabama Forestry Commission.

The good feeling he always got from caring for his patients has been extended to his love of the great outdoors. In a way, all those trees and wildlife on their property are part of their family.

"If you plant a lot of trees and don’t do anything to care for them, by walking away you are doing a disservice not only to your property but your state as well," he said.

Public service has always been a trait of the Saloom family ever since Salem’s grandfather left Lebanon in 1918 to begin a new life in America. He settled in Enterprise where he was successful in the mercantile business.

His family’s department store flourished until the Depression in 1929 when loyal customers, unable to pay their bills because of the times, left it with $50,000 in unpaid purchases.

 
  The Salooms were the recipients of the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s 2010 Governor’s Forest Conservationist Award.

The Salooms showed how much their new country meant to them and, instead of legal action against their customers, forgave their debts, an altruistic action that endeared them to everyone in the community.

"Lebanese are a resourceful people and my relatives were able to recover from that period and become successful again," Saloom said.

Good management is the key to success in any venture, whether it involves retail stores or agriculture, and Dr. Saloom applied that principle to his medical clinic as well as his farm.

Development of a proper habitat was one of the first things he did at his Conecuh County farm because, "if you are dedicated to thinning, replanting and prescribed burning, it’s a good thing."

He first focused on loblolly trees, but, in recent years, has been transitioning to longleaf pines. The latter require more time to mature, but, in his opinion, are better for the environment.

Loblollies’ mushrooming popularity in the South became so prevalent that longleaf trees appeared to be on the verge of becoming an endangered species, so Saloom is doing his part to save them.

"You can cry in your beer or make lemonade out of lemons," he said. "Longleafs may not grow as fast as loblollies, but they have a better root system and can survive droughts much better than loblollies. In many ways, they are just better."

Saloom is a man of action who isn’t afraid to pursue a dream if he feels it’s the right thing to do. Such was the case when he wanted to annex 40 acres to his property in Conecuh County. The property was purchased from 36 heirs.

"It took 18 months to complete that transaction," he recalled. "It all goes back to vision. If you don’t have it, you just lie down and die. That’s not the way I am."

One of his proudest accomplishments occurred in 1989 when he cut his first stand of trees. He celebrated by using part of the proceeds from the timber sale to buy a new wedding ring for Dianne.

In recent years, he’s been involved in more than a dozen important agencies, ranging from the American Tree Farm System to the Longleaf Alliance, from the Alabama Treasure Forest Association to the State Tree Farm Committee.

Salem and Dianne, along with their son Patrick, were named National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year in 2010 and were saluted before 350 woodland owners in Vermont.

"Their tree farm work is a labor of love and faith," said the organization in a statement honoring them. "Their motives are unselfish and they have put forest management to work in a big way."

Whenever Salem and Dianne feel like getting a panoramic view of their property and the wildlife inhabiting it, they climb a Depression era fire tower they disassembled and moved to their property.

They can climb it in about 90 seconds for a spectacular view not only of their farm but miles around. Few Alabamians have a 110-foot fire tower in their backyard, but the Salooms do and marvel at it each time they gaze up to the top.

The state didn’t charge them for the tower, but the couple incurred the cost associated with moving it from Baldwin County and providing deep footings to keep it upright.

"We took it apart piece by piece in 4 to 5 days and put it together over a two-week period," he explained. "It’s like brand new."

Aware of the significance of the galvanized steel tower built about 80 years ago, he has had it listed in the National Historic Register.

"Dr. Saloom is very knowledgeable about forestry and is doing a great job down in Conecuh County," said Alabama State Forester Greg Pate. "It’s hard to find an empty date on his calendar, but he always finds time to speak with me on various issues regarding our state’s forests."

What impresses him the most about the Salooms is their stewardship of natural resources because "they care about the land and are doing all they can to preserve it."

Salem is a committed environmentalist because he sees much more than slow-growing longleaf trees when he and Dianne take a stroll through their forest.

"They may take longer to grow, but you can enjoy them along the way," he said of his longleafs. "Then, there’s the hunting and the aesthetics. You can’t beat what we’ve got here."

What Alabama got was much more than pine trees. It’s got a man who has, through his medical and forestry efforts, generously repaid the state many times what it provided the Saloom family nearly a century ago.

The big event is only 4 years away and, no doubt, he and Dianne might just celebrate by taking another stroll through their fabulous forest.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.