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The opening quote by Scott Nearing about the peculiar and deeply satisfying journey of the off-beat thinker told me this would be a passionate read. So it is. Chris Maser's "Our Forest Legacy" throbs with the heartbeat of one who has not lost that child-like fascination with the natural world. And this naiveté, coupled with wisdom, simply asks us to change—in hope for the future, born of anguish about the past.
This book is compelling, as well as deeply disturbing.
It made me think, hard. Chris confronted me with things I had never even been aware of, much less grappled with. For example, I fell into the trap of thinking that "forest industry" meant logging and wood processing, while ignoring all the other forest-dependent industries, such as recreation, outfitting, fishing, farming, municipal water, and so on. They clearly have as much at stake as logging and wood processing, or perhaps even more, in the determination of whether forest policies equate to sustainable forestry. This said, his book made me more aware of how deeply we are a part of forests, and how much we are diminished by our loss of native forests due to our greed. We need forests. And Chris speaks of how we can sustain them that they might sustain us.
Yet I am disturbed. Although I'm an optimist, Chris brings me very close to utter despair. I wonder whether we have the capacity to change as dramatically as will be necessary? Have forests been so fundamentally altered, in spite of their resilience, as to be beyond restoration? I am buoyed by the knowledge that most great change has been fostered by a dedicated individual or small group. Might this book be another "Silent Spring?"
I see things through the lens of a life spent in forestry; 34 years with the U.S. Forest Service. I felt a pull on my life in my early teens. Chris had water-filled ditches behind his house; I had summers with my Dad in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Dad looked at fossils. I explored and was awestruck. So, I understand, Chris, why forestry is more than a job. Being a zealot is not a bad thing when you sense the world slipping away. Make no mistake, Chris Maser bears a torch. And we need torchbearers, for the human heart grows cold slowly and needs a fire to rekindle passion.
Gifford Pinchot dreamed of an organization—the U.S. Forest Service—being moved enough by the idealism of conservation that it would provide exemplary stewardship of the lands entrusted to its care, especially for future generations, of which we are now one. For decades the Forest Service seemed up to the lofty challenge. But today it is a leaky vessel, and voices are being heard that it is beyond saving.
The century-old notion of national forests—and a government and a people being wise enough to set aside lands dedicated to principles of conservation rather than exploitation—was radical. But this idea has stood the test of time and is broadly emulated internationally.
Nevertheless, many people have given up on the Forest Service, and I sense that Chris was also close to giving up. I'm glad, however, that he chose instead to invest hope in the concept of the Forest Service and our national, public forests, to illustrate what forestlands can mean for our future when properly understood and appreciated. His vision is a call to action.
I first met Chris in the mid-1980s while I was working on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. He had been invited to speak to local Forest Service officials. Who was this guy talking authoritatively about truffles, mouse poop, mycorrhizae, northern spotted owls, and bugs? And making sense! But why was I hearing such "truths" for the first time, after 20 years in the profession?
I eventually became Supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest, which is headquartered in Corvallis, Oregon, where Chris lives. I gave a speech shortly after the Northwest Forest Plan was released in 1994. The Northwest Forest Plan—"The Answer" to decades of forest conflict in the Pacific Northwest—laid out a challenge to change the path of management on federal forests (and by implication on all forests). Making the plan work, however, was an altogether different challenge.
When Chris read my speech a few days later, he called me and said that if I needed anything from him to help me implement the forest plan, to just ask. I never redeemed the favor—until now, and I'm late in asking. If I had been thinking beyond myself, I would have asked for a BIG favor, something that would benefit many people, not just me.
I would have asked Chris to write a book about why forests are important to the world; why they ought to be recognized as a biological living trust we hold for future generations; and why the U.S. Forest Service is in a unique position to lead a radical reformation. Chris, I would have asked you to put in everything you've learned about forests, and most especially what you've learned about people. But you anticipated this need—"Our Forest Legacy" is just the favor I should have asked for. I'm glad you didn't wait. We need your wisdom. May it move us to action.
National Forest System
USDA Forest Service (retired)
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART I—TODAY'S CRISIS
CHAPTER 1: WHAT DRIVES TODAY'S FOREST CRISIS?
Ramifications Of The Soil-Rent Theory
The Difference in Meaning Between "Sustained" and "Sustainable"
The Linearity Of Our Thinking
The Forest Crisis As A Product Of Our Thinking
PART II—TOMORROW'S HOPE
CHAPTER 2: OUR FEDERAL, PUBLIC FORESTS
Why Our Federal, Public Forests Are Important
What's In A Word?
Our Forest Legacy
A Legacy Forest
CHAPTER 3: A FOREST IN TRUST
A Biological Living Trust
A Forest as a Biological Living Trust
A Biological Living Trust as a Big Idea
CHAPTER 4: OVERSEEING THE TRUST
Stages In The Cycle Of An Agency
The Advisory Councils
The Forest Advisory Council
The Children's Advisory Council
The Forest Advisory Council's Charge
PART III—PERPETUATING THE TRUST
CHAPTER 5: PRELUDE TO CARETAKING THE TRUST
CHAPTER 6: CARETAKING THE TRUST
The Invisible Present
Ecological Back-up Systems
Biological Capital and the Health of Soil
Genesis of Soil
Biological Infrastructure of Soil
Biological Capital vs. Economic Capital
Nature's Inherent Services
Patterns Across the Landscape
Fire in Western Forests
Fire Patterns Across the Landscape
The Misguided Fear of Fire
Emulating Fire Patterns
How We Think About Water-Catchments
The hydrological continuum
The Storage of Water
Roads, Urban Sprawl, and Water
The Stream-Order Continuum
The Transportation System
CHAPTER 7: MONITORING THE TRUST
The Questions We Ask
Six Steps of Monitoring
ENDNOTES (Return to Top of Page)
"Maser presents a unique, possibly visionary, view of how humans interact with forests and how the author feels this interaction should change. I don't know of any other books that are even remotely like this one [Our Forest Legacy]. I suspect that many readers will scoff at the ideas presented, others may find that their fundamental philosophies have been changed by reading the book. The scientific information in the book is high quality and current, although it is more aimed at a lay audience than for students or scientists who are already knowledgeable about principles of forest ecology. Forest managers, on the other hand, could be enlightened by many of the ideas and thoughts presented here.
"This thoughtful and inspirational book is as much a philosophical monograph as a scientific text, although the elements of philosophy and science are nicely blended. The book is peppered with lovely quotes from all aspects of the human experience, including politics, literature, science and art. It starts with a careful and detailed examination of its own purpose, which I would describe as the author's personal prescription for a new relationship between humans and forests—one that focuses on viewing forests (especially, but not exclusively, public lands) as a living trust, with each successive generation bearing responsibility to ensure that the integrity of the forest is maintained for future generations. The focus is on the United States, although numerous allusions and references are more global.
"After this introduction, the book moves to an examination of historical and current perceptions of forests—what they are and how they came about—followed by the author's vision of how these perceptions should change. Next (I was pleased to see) come concrete suggestions for implementing change. A national-level Forest Advisory Council is a focal point of the implementation. Suggestions are provided both for the makeup and the charge of this Council—with the novel suggestion of participation by children as the ultimate recipients of the "legacy," which the book is all about.
"Most of the second half of the book is devoted to an examination of biophysical, social and economic principles that underscore any and all changes, whether intentional or unintentional, that humans impose upon forests. As a forest ecologist myself, I feel most qualified to comment on the biophysical discussions. I found the information accurate and comprehensive, and generally oriented for an interested lay audience rather than specialists or even students who already have background in the discipline. This is in contrast to some of the more philosophical discussions, which might indeed be interesting and valuable to readers who already have some background in forest ecology.
"The book concludes with the author's soulful and emotional call for change, emphasizing the importance of first changing ourselves and the way we think. The book is annotated with nearly 200 well-chosen references.
"The author has extensive experience and knowledge in the interrelationships between forest structure and function and the ways that human activities alter these structures and functions. He uses this experience and knowledge, especially from the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest, to provide real-world examples to illustrate general concepts. However, the book is as much about the human condition, and the generation of new ideas within human cultures, as it is about forests."
Dr. Barbara J. Bond
Department of Forest Science
Oregon State University
"Agenda 21, adopted at the 1992 RIO summit, calls for concerted action and far-reaching decisions by governments, non-governmental organization, and the scientific community to preserve biodiversity. In Maser's seminal book "Global Imperative," he demonstrates the limits with which managed landscapes, such as forest ecosystems, can sustain their processes. Now, at the beginning of the new millennium, Maser presents much more evidence that points to the necessity of balancing ecological and social imperatives in order to protect and/or restore biodiversity in the forested ecosystems of the United States.
"His vision of a Forest Advisory Council leading the way with insights into socio-economic and biophysical principles are clearly in concordance with the concept of social-environmental sustainability. Our Forest Legacy, the 20th book from of Maser's pen, reflects some of the exciting scientific progress of the last twenty years in the study of forest ecosystems. The research of which Maser writes links forest ecophysiology and ecoeconomy with biogeochemistry from a long-term perspective for the social-environmental sustainability of national public forests in the United States. In addition, Maser proposes to employ the everyday caretaking principles of policy, planning, and implementation embodied in the "National Indicators" of the Forest Stewardship Council-US in order to maintain and/or restore forest ecosystems for the benefit of all generations."
Helmut Blaschke, Ph.D.
Research Forest Biologist
School of Forestry and Natural Resource Management
Technische Universität München
"Our Forest Legacy is filled with profound insights about our forests and their future ... a serious melding of science, ethics, and dirty boots experience."
Thomas E. Lovejoy, President
The H. John Heinz III Center for Science,
Economics, and the Environment
"Thanks for Our Forest Legacy. Sometimes it takes a little jolt to help one focus on important things. Your book helped me remember why I became a forester in the first place. I grew up in a part of southeastern Missouri that was mostly cotton and soybean fields and had few forests left. The few forests I could find would be best described as 'shirt pocket forests,' small, self-contained, and impacted by everything. But as a boy of twelve, I found them beautiful, mysterious, compelling places. I would search out any forest I could find, walk into its heart, and discover a place to simply be. There were dreams of the beauty and peace of a forest that stretched from horizon to horizon. I would emerge from those forests dirty and often covered with ticks but still hearing the symphony of birds and unseen denizens of the forest druming in my ears. That was when I began to realize the forest was where I wanted to spend my life.
"So off I went off to learn about growth and yield, timber stand inventory, fiber production, volume control, and road and skid trail layouts. Somewhere along the way I realized that the forestry I was being taught wasn't the kind of forestry I wanted to practice. Fortune smiled on me when I found a company that practiced 'my' kind of forestry. Even so, one can lose sight of the important things about a forest when shouldering the responsibility of running a business. It is easy to become focused on erosion control, road layout, and harvest verses volume control. Now, over fifty years later, reading Our Forest Legacy brought those youthful memories back in a rushing torrent every bit as beautiful, mysterious, and compelling as the first time thought. It is easy to focus only on the trees of a forest because they are the most obvious. Your book helped me remember that a forest is a nearly incomprehensible place of complex actions, reactions, and interactions and the trees are only part of an interdependent and independent community.
"Perhaps asking for too much good fortune isn't a good thing but it is my ardent hope that Our Forest Legacy will help our culture, our society, our people refocus on the values of a forest rather than the commodities of a forest and my grandchildren will see the forests of my dreams.
Pioneer Forest, Salem, MO.
"Never thought I would read a forestry book that was a 'page turner'! But your Our Forest Legacy impacts me that way."
Hugh McMahan, M.D.
Mt. Hood, OR
"Our Forest Legacy: Today's Decisions, Tomorrow's Consequences offers a history of twentieth-century perceptions of forests and public lands combined with specific, real-world recommendations for changes in management that reflect the author's concept of the forest as a 'living trust.' Maser argues that each generation bears responsibility for ensuring the integrity of forests for future generations, and that if we are to successfully change the way we manage our forest resources, we must first change the way we think about forests. These inspiring and thought-provoking arguments led Jim Furnish, retired Deputy Chief of the National Forest System, USDA Forest Service, to inquire: 'Might this book be another Silent Spring?'"
Forest History Today
"My students have raved about your books (Our Forest Legacy) and how much they have helped them to connect and understand complex science principles. They relate to the relevant applications you provide that are things happening right around them. It has helped them understand the importance and complexity involved in respecting and protecting the living systems that support and sustain the planet."
Assistant Professor of Science
Umpqua Community College,
"Chris, I used some of your material from Our Forest Legacy in an appeal of a government timber harvest proposal. It is the first time I had an appeal upheld and I have done many of them. I am not finished with Forest Legacy, reading it slowly for meaning. It is really good as all your books have been. Thank you."
"This volume is a braided stream of philosophical reminiscences of an enlightened forester intent on exposing the linear-mindedness of forestry professionals and forest industries. With a focus on western North America, Maser covers a lot of ground, looping from nutrient cycles to epistemology. The author clearly cares about both human dignity and forests as living systems.
"The book's central theme is the ignominy of profit-maximizing forest industries working in cahoots with the U.S. Forest Service in the ruthless exploitation and widespread mismanagement of the public's forests—our legacy. His well-justified wrath at the despoilment of our living trust informs as it motivates. Nevertheless, I found his frequent citations of his own publications and the quotations from several of his other 18 books a bit off-putting, especially because, in the process, he too often overlooked the recent and ecological insights of other researchers.
"Raising consciousness about forest mismanagement is important, as is teaching about forest ecology, but the volume includes few workable alternatives. Enlightenment is perhaps a prerequisite for purposeful action, but what sorts of actions are appropriate? Shutting down the forest industries of the west might be nice for westerners, but will only increase pressure on the fiber basket of the south and the rainforests of the further south. Is there a place for intensive forestry? Might carbon offsets and other payments for environmental services help? And is forest product certification by the Forest Stewardship Council really serving to reform forest industries? Maser is unfortunately mute on these issues.
"Although the author does not provide many solutions, I enjoyed following him from the classics to the gutter politics of timber sales to the corruption of thinning as a fire surrogate. Maser the philosopher-scientist has an impressive breadth of knowledge. He is eloquent on ethics and ecology, setting an example for those of us who hesitate to mix science and spirituality. Our Forest Legacy provides a wealth of information and inspiration for environmentalists, principally those immersed in forest debates in western North America."
Francis E. Putz
University of Florida, Gainesville
The Quarterly Review of Biology (2007) 82(1):71.
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The photograph of Zane and me was taken by Sue Johnston.