I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. Look at the sun: If there is no sun, then we cannot exist. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred; trees are my temples, and forests are my cathedrals.
— Mikhail Gorbachev, 1990
MY HISTORY IN FORESTRY
My 64th birthday at my favorite lake in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.
I grew up in western Oregon, and as a self-contained, solitary youth, I spent every possible moment roaming the virgin old-growth forests of the Coast and Cascade Mountain Ranges. When I was 18, I discovered the uncut primeval forest around Spirit Lake, at the base of Mount St. Helens, in the state of Washington, where I spent many a glorious day wandering the seemingly endless trails, both those of human origin and those made by elk.
Then came a day that is well etched in memory. It was the 13th of October 1961, and I had just turned 23. The sky was a pure, cloudless blue. The snow atop Mount St. Helens glistened in the sun across Spirit Lake. I stopped eating the sun-ripened, sun-warmed black huckleberries and stood for a long time, a seeming eternity, on a pass overlooking Spirit Lake. I had been in the mountains for three agonizing weeks, and in my heart I knew that I could never go back to the mountains of my youth. I would never again know the mountains as I had known them.
I had spent three weeks struggling within myself, trying to figure out what I would do. I had seen virtually all of the places that I loved fall to the chain saw. The last one I had just left—the valley of the Green River.
I can still remember the trail along the river as it flowed through the ancient forest that was unbroken for 50 miles in any direction. The trail was dappled with soft green and bright yellow light filtered through a canopy of vine maples. It was cool and deep with western redcedar trees so big that I could not climb over them when they lay on the ground across the old trail, so I either had to find a way under them or go around them. There was a soda spring that the band-tailed pigeons liked to drink from and around whose edge they ate the ripe blue elderberries. The river had so many native cutthroat trout in it that I caught them by dangling a dry fly an inch over the surface of the water. Deer, elk, black bear, marten, mink, blue grouse, and an occasional ruffed grouse shared the river with me as I fished for my supper. Then it was all gone. As far as I could see was one giant clearcut with human garbage scattered along the miles of logging roads. I caught one fish, and it had a hook in its mouth.
Are all the forests of the world, I wondered, to be felled by the chain saw? Is nothing sacred from the human animal's lust for material wealth? What do I do now? Shall I turn my back on civilization, if it can be called that, and live with and off the land in Canada or Alaska? Or do I leave the mountains and go into the cities that I despise and fight for the survival of the forests I love so much? Would I ever again feel the clean, cold wind on my face as I did when I slept under the winking stars in the black vault of the night sky?
These were the questions with which I had been struggling for days. And then, standing on the pass, the crossroad of my life, I knew I had to make a choice. I don't know how long I stood there, but the sun was setting over Mount St. Helens, and I still had miles to go. Like the Native youths who had gone before me into the sacred heart of the ancient forest, I left behind my youth. Unlike those youths of old, however, I also left my heart in the care of the land, for where I had to travel there were no sacred forests left. From that day in 1960—when I watched the sun set over Mount St. Helens—to this, I have spent the better part of those years as a scientist working to help society see and understand the ecological and social value of biologically diverse forests in all their stages of development—as opposed to biologically simplified, economically designed tree farms, which today are also called "fiber farms."
I graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor's degree in General Science, and in 1966 with a Master's degree in Zoology. My Master's thesis centered around the Oregon red tree vole, which is a small mouse-like rodent that lives in Douglas fir trees in western Oregon and northwestern California. (If you want to know more about this unique small mammal, see: Mammals of the Pacific Northwest: from the Coast to the High Cascades Mammals)
During my study of the red tree vole, I consistently met with two frustrations. First, every time I found a good population of voles to work with, the area was clearcut before I could complete my studies. Second, every time I asked the professors in the School of Forestry at Oregon State University or those in the U.S. Forest Service about forests as a living entity, I got economic answers. They knew little or nothing, it seemed, about the ecology of forests, only how to see them as commodities to be converted into money.
I did not go on for a Ph.D. because I was constantly pushed to specialize, when all I wanted was to study Natural History and Ecology (particularly that of small mammals), which I was repeatedly told was "Indian Lore" and we already knew all of that we needed to know. Although I disagreed, it wasn't until passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 that it became clear just how little was really known about the natural history of numerous species (especially some of the endangered species).
In 1972, I co-authored (with Jerry F. Franklin, Frederick C. Hall, and C. Ted Dyrness): "Federal Research Natural Areas in Oregon and Washington. A Guidebook for Scientists and Educators." USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. 498 pp. This publication brought the recognition of wildlife into the Federal Research Natural Areas program for the first time.
In 1975, I co-authored (with C. Ted Dyrness, Jerry F. Franklin, S. A. Cook, J.D. Hall, and Glenda Faxon): "Research Natural Area Needs in the Pacific Northwest: A Contribution to Land-use Planning." USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-38. Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. 231 pp.
As well, I began (in March 1975) to work in the Vale District of the USDI Bureau of Land Management (southeastern Oregon), although I was housed in the La Grande (northeastern Oregon) Range and Wildlife Research Laboratory of the U.S. Forest Service. Again, because of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 I was the only research scientist in the Bureau of Land Management, and was given the charge of surveying the wildlife on 5.2 million acres of federal, public lands.
In 1979, based on eight years of my field work in the Great Basin of Southeastern Oregon, the inland forests of northeastern Oregon, and the coastal forests of western Oregon, an article titled "Small mammals traffic in truffles," was written by Dorothy Bergstrom and appeared in Forestry Research West, an internal publication of the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. The following is an excerpt:
"Small mammals are important to forest regeneration and may be critical to the survival and growth of trees on some unfavorable sites," says mycologist Jim Trappe of the Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station in Corvallis, Oregon. Trappe has published extensively on the importance of mycorrhizal fungi to the growth and vigor of natural and planted seedlings. He is also the mycologist half of a unique scientific team, which has made important discoveries about the relationship of truffles and small mammals in the forest ecosystem.
As Trappe recalls it, the idea for the study grew out of one of those occasions when scientists from different disciplines meet for the first time, talk shop, bounce ideas around, and suddenly recognize an opportunity to collaborate on a problem that has puzzled both of them.
In this case, Trappe met Chris Maser, a wildlife biologist, on a field trip. Maser who [at the time was conducting an ecological survey of the Oregon Coast, 1970-1973, and later] worked for the Bureau of Land Management in La Grande, Oregon, and is one of the few people in the country conducting a broad spectrum census of small-mammal populations. He told Trappe about finding a truffle in the mouth of a Douglas squirrel he had shot. Trappe knew that small mammals dig up and eat truffles. But he didn't know how important truffles are in the diet of the animals or what happens to the fungal spores that are eaten. He wanted to find out. So did Maser. It dawned on both scientists that together they might be able to find some answers.
From this beginning in 1971 grew the first large-scale study to identify fungal spores in the stomach contents and feces of small forest mammals. So far material from 29 species of shrews, pikas, rabbits, squirrels, gophers, mice, woodrats, and voles has been examined. The findings have documented food habits, settled long-standing questions about spore survival, and shed new light on ecological relationships between plans, fungi, and small mammals.
Dear Mr. Maser. Thank you for coming to our classroom. My favorite animal that you showed was the flying squirrel. The slide show was cool. The northern flying squirrel feeds heavily on truffles and disperses their reproductive spores throughout the coniferous forest.
Armed with this knowledge and mounting evidence of the importance of truffles in the animals' diet, Trappe and Maser took a new look at the role of small, truffle-eating mammals in forest ecosystems. They concluded that the animals were the unrecognized third partner in a mutual benefit association with plants and fungi. Just as plants and fungi evolved over thousands of years to depend on each other for nutrients, water, and protection, the small mammals grew to depend on truffles for some of their food and water. In return, the animals contribute to the welfare of the forest by transporting truffle spores from place to place. As they travel between established forest and clearcut, burned, or other deforested areas, the animals drop their fecal pellets. When these are washed into the soil by rain, the spores become available to form additional mycorrhizae with plant roots. "Transportation by small mammals is the only known dispersal method," says Trappe. "In fact, we may find that passage through an animal's digestive tract stimulates the spores to germinate."
In addition to the above science article, 1979 was the year of the publication: "Wildlife Habitats in Managed Forests—The Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington." USDA Forest Service, Agricultural Handbook No. 553. (Jack W. Thomas, Technical Editor). U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 511 pp. Of the ten chapters, I was lead author on two: "Dead and Down Woody Material" and "Cliffs, Talus, and Caves." I was second author on two: "Riparian Zones" and "Edges," and third author on two: "Plant Communities and Successional Stages" and "Snags."
With the project "Wildlife Habitats in Managed Forests—The Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington" completed, I was reassigned in 1980 to the U.S. Forest Service laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon, where I was co-principal investigator (with James M. Trappe, U.S. Forest Service) on a study of the old-growth forest, in part because of the endangered species that lived in these old forests.
Our work resulted in such synthesis publications as: (1) 1994. "The Seen and Unseen World of the Fallen Tree." USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-164. (Chris Maser and James M. Trappe, Technical Editors.) Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Portland, OR. 56 pp; (2) 1988. "From the Forest to the Sea—A Story of Fallen Trees." USDA Forest Service General Technical Report PNW-229. Pacific Northwest Research Station, Portland, OR. 153 pp. (Chris Maser, Robert F. Tarrant, James M. Trappe, and Jerry F. Franklin, Tech. Eds.); and (3) 1989. "Synoptic Spore Key to Genera of Hypogeous Fungi in Northern Temperate Forests with Special Reference to Animal Mycophagy." Mad River Press, Inc., Eureka, CA. 186 pp, by Michael A. Castellano, James M. Trappe, Zane Maser, and Chris Maser.
In 1985, I went for a month to Europe to study the forestry problems with which they had for so long been struggling, especially in Germany, where I had as a child been in boarding school.
While in Europe, a lot of the pieces of the forestry puzzle came together. Upon returning to Corvallis, I visited with professors in the School of Forestry, here at Oregon State University, about what I had learned. I proposed to present my ideas in a series of seminars to be debated. The professors were unsupportive at best. They told me they were not interested because I simply did not understand forests or forestry, and they had the scientific articles to prove it. Having no academic audience with whom to test my ideas, I elected to write a book highlighting the insights I had gleaned over the years about forest biology and social values concerning forests. "The Redesigned Forest," which was published in 1988, a year after I had resigned from the Bureau of Land Management, got good reviews outside of the profession of forestry The Redesigned Forest. Here is a sampling of those reviews:
In "The Redesigned Forest," Chris Maser issues a serious, sensible, and sensitive challenge to the way in which the forest lands of northwest North America are managed. For too long, the land and its vast and diverse resources have been viewed as conquerable and inexhaustible. Also for too long, its management and use have been shaped by policies encouraging short-term economic gain. In this process, man has isolated himself from the land. Secure in towns and cities far away from the forest lands, politicians and technocrats pay no serious attention to the devastating consequences of their undertakings. The human species is an interdependent and integral part of the land, the water, the air, the animals, and all of creation. As it nourishes us, as it clothes us, and as it warms us, the earth is like our mother. And as we owe to our mother, we have a duty and responsibility to protect it for the generations yet to come. If Maser's challenge is not met, then surely we will condemn ourselves and future generations to great uncertainty and in so doing, we will deny to ourselves the full value of human dignity.
Tribal Chief, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council,
Prince George, B.C., Canada
The principles set out in "The Redesigned Forest" are not restricted to forests, but are equally applicable to any other natural ecosystem on planet earth, and Chris Maser's erudite and yet easy-to-follow writing and his keen perceptiveness are a welcome and refreshing breeze in a world in need of hope.
—Dr. S.C.J. Jourbert,
Warden, Kruger National Park,
Skukuza, South Africa
The work of Chris Maser, a former BLM [Bureau of Land Management] employee, stands as perhaps the most striking testament to the ferment that is now taking place within the federal land agencies. "The Redesigned Forest," is a provocative, highly readable call to arms for fundamental reform of our policy toward old-growth forests. Maser's creative thinking and writing surely will figure prominently in the comprehensive reassessment that we are now undergoing in regard to our treatment of the nation's forest lands.
—Charles F. Wilkinson,
Professor of Law,
University of Colorado at Boulder
In The Redesigned Forest, Chris Maser has written for the layperson an accessible, gentle, and non-confrontational book that casts serious doubt on current forest management policies in British Columbia.
The Redesigned Forest deserves a prominent place in the discussion currently underway as British Columbians try to develop a sustainable forest management policy to take us into the 21st century.
Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Last year, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Chris Maser, who is one of the most important forest ecologists alive today. If you care about the forests and haven't read The Redesigned Forest, reconsider. And then, because you deserve it, read his book Forest Primeval, which to me is one of the best-written popular accounts of the inner workings of old-growth forests.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Chris Maser is one of a handful of prominent forest ecologists who have changed our perception of forests and forestry. …the conservation community would do well to heed what Maser says about the futility of 'zero-sum' games, in which both sides perceive the other's gains as losses to avenge in the next engagement. Since the timber industry has far more power and money than the conservationists, a "zero-sum" game is one we will only lose in the long run, and if we lose, so does everybody else on the planet. As Maser concludes: "Unless we all win, nobody wins."
—Thomas I. Ellis,
Will Hornyak, who interviewed me for the Autumn 1989 edition of The Stewards' Journal, wrote:
Author, lecturer, and international consultant on forest management issues, Chris Maser of Corvallis, Oregon, is known to some as the "Ghandi of the Forest." He was employed as research biologist for 12 years with the Bureau of Land Management and is considered an expert on ancient or old-growth forests. His informed, nonadversarial approach toward environmental issues and competing interest groups has won him the respect of conservationists, government agencies, and members of the timber industry.
Your book, "The Redesigned Forest," seems to be written as much by a poet as a scientist.
In 1990, a pair of articles appeared in the December issue of Journal of Forestry that posited two views of "The Redesigned Forest," one favorable and one not:
Chris Maser is one of the most controversial pioneers in the current struggle to reform forest management practices. His writings and public addresses cause people to question current practices and consider more "ecologically sensitive" approaches to managing forest. Members of the general public and environmental community are inspired by his vision. In this sense, Maser is a major player in the current debate over old-growth preservation.
Thus it behooves foresters to become familiar with his viewpoint, and The Redesigned Forest is a good introduction. It is a bold effort to use biology, psychology, and religion to support old-growth preservation and ecologically sound forest management. Maser invites challenge from scientific colleagues by mixing fragments of Buddhism, Christianity, psychotherapy, and even Kubler-Ross's stages of dying with comments on forest management and findings from forest biology. Such a collage of perspectives may frustrate, or even anger, the scientifically centered reader. However, readers should not assume that the subject matter of this book is simply forest biology.
This book is about change—personal change, and change in ways of thinking about nature, economic organization, religious beliefs, and the role of forests in society. Readers learn how previously simple issues involving forest management have provided a stage on which our society is struggling to cope with a rapidly changing world. Forests have become a central symbol for sustainability and continuity in the face of turbulence and uncertainty. Hence, an increasingly important role for forests is to provide people with a firm grounding in the continuity of past, present, and future when so many aspects of their lives are blurred by the pace of change. For Maser, our ecological problems are fundamentally psychological and religious problems. While discussing the redesigned forest, he is also seeking to redesign himself and his society.
Maser makes his most significant contribution by breaking through the cultural barriers that have separated society from nature, the life of people from the life of forests. Foresters have perpetuated a prevalent cultural myth that forests are simply biological entities that have little to do with people. People are here and forests are there. For years foresters were taught that they needed to know very little about people to manage a forest.
Maser has the courage to remind his biological colleagues that forests have meaning to people because people endow them with meaning. Forests don't speak for themselves, but are interpreted through the matrix of cultural beliefs and values we impose on them. Maser is seeking to change that matrix by questioning both the separation of people from nature and the values we assign to forests, and placing more emphasis on recent discoveries about natural ecological processes.
. . .
My major regret about this book is that it was not titled The Redefined Forest. This would make it mandatory reading for all foresters.
Professor Robert G. Lee,
College of Forest Resources
University of Washington
The one opposing the ideas voiced in The Redesigned Forest from within the profession of forestry, was a review by seven scientists. Their conclusions were:
The premise underlying much of Maser's philosophy is that forest ecosystems function through precariously-balanced interdependencies, where alteration leads inexorably downward. He dramatizes this early in the book (p. 14) by recounting the crash of a helicopter and loss of life because a simple screw had been removed and not replaced during servicing. The analogy—that "for want of a 'screw', a forest will be lost"—seems illogical and inappropriate when applied to ecosystems. Helicopters are designed to be cause-and-effect mechanical systems. Forest ecosystems, however, contain much functional duplication and have many compensatory interactions. Centuries of experience and much scientific investigation in moist temperate forests seem to provide far more support for a premise of forest resilience to disturbances associated with current management activities than for Maser's philosophy of extreme fragility.
The Redesigned Forest does speak to values and philosophies of forest management but it bears little resemblance to A Sand County Almanac (Leopold 1949) and other such works. Whatever the cause (ignorance, intent, or both), the scientific credibility of The Redesigned Forest suffers from an abundance of inaccurate and selectively-chosen information as well as illogical speculation. It therefore does little to foster accurate understanding of existing and proposed management options for biodiversity, wildlife habitat, site productivity, and other resource considerations. If the book has value, it is that it provides documentation of some of the philosophical views as well as the misconceptions that have become part of the current controversy. Reading the book will alert forest managers, forest scientists, and other knowledgeable people concerned with the forest environment to the nature and magnitude of the misinformation. We urge informed readers to take a more active part in overcoming this problem.
Philip S. Aune (program manager),
William W. Oliver (project leader),
Robert F. Powers (principle silviculturist)
—all of the Pacific Southwest Research Station,
U.S. Forest Service in Redding, CA;
James R. Boyle and John C. Tappeiner
professors in the College of Forestry,
Oregon State University, Corvallis;
Dean S. DeBell (project leader),
Pacific Northwest Research Station
U.S. Forest Service in Olympia, WA;
and Chadwick D. Oliver (professor),
College of Forest Resources,
University of Washington, Seattle.
In the Spring of 1990, Richard Nilsen wrote in the Whole Earth Review:
The more we begin to understand how forests function as ecological systems, the clearer it becomes that modern forestry is akin to mining, not resource management, and precludes any hope of sustainability. In the forefront of scientists doing the fieldwork to back up these kinds of assertions is Chris Maser. He writes books in a style equivalent to an ecological food web—a careful look at process via a tangential combination of hard science, history and humanistic psychology.
The Redesigned Forest contrasts the ecological needs of a forest with current short-rotation forestry practices. If you want to understand his basic argument, start here. Forest Primeval is a biography of an ancient forest in Oregon, from its beginnings in the year 988 up to the present. From the Forest to the Sea is an example of the fieldwork Maser was doing at the Bureau of Land Management before he left to become a private consultant. It examines what happens to the biomass of fallen trees, in the forest, in the watershed, and even on the seabed miles off the Oregon coastline.
When we think of Nature's forest as a commodity, we treat it like one. Because we treat it like a commodity, we are trying to redesign it to become one. We take a system designed by Nature to run in 400-to 1,200-year cycles and attempt to replace it with recurring cycles of only the first 80 to 120 years. We do not see the forest. We are so obsessed with our small goals that we … redesigned the forest with an instability that cannot be repaired with fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.
In the autumn of 1990, the following article appeared in the magazine "Visions" from the Oregon Graduate Institute:
What are the career issues for an unsung Corvallis mammalogist who takes on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service over the clearcutting of old-growth forests? Chris Maser, now 52, survived to talk about it. Even more, he is honored by many for touching off a basic shift toward the "new forestry" concept of harvests that don't cripple the underlying forest ecosystem.
"Maser's trees for critters" are, what some people today call big, fallen logs, range from huckleberry, fungi, and earwigs to mice and spotted owls. They're all part of the long-term ecosystem for which the Northern spotted owl is an index species, like a miner's canary.
Maser was a highly visible gadfly, colleagues say, shrilly arguing that indiscriminately clearcutting the primeval forest and converting the land to plantation forestry was threatening permanent damage to the world's greatest conifer belt. Some, but not all, say Maser-the-advocate cost Maser-the-scientist his credibility. Even defenders concede that he was dramatic, relentless, and a little loose with citations.
He resigned in 1987 after 12 years as a research wildlife biologist for the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, feeling dead-ended by administrative antagonism. He spent the next four years, lucratively and happily, he says
as a forestry consultant and wrote two books, "Forest Primeval" and "The Redesigned Forest." But now he's back with the government, helping to set objectives for research on the global ecosystem by the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program, based in Nevada.
Maser's government career began with studies of small mammals and their habitats. His interest expanded to include the mutual dependencies of mammals, microorganisms, and trees and eventually to a global view of forests systems' role in the biosphere.
"Chris is an excellent naturalist, a careful and close observer of what goes on in the natural world," says Logan Norris, now Head of Forest Science at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. But Norris believes his advocacy amounts to evangelism, not science.
Formerly the project leader for watershed studies at the Forest Service research station in Corvallis, Norris has known Maser for 18 years. "His work was largely with the presence, activities, role, and characteristics of mammals," recalls Norris. He made a "tremendous leap in scale, from a tight focus on mammals
how does the forest work in the world." In the process, Norris observes, Maser lost the "thoughtful, analytical objectivity that science requires."
Maser himself doesn't bother to quarrel about it. Asked, "Are you a scientist, or what," he replied, "I don't know; I can't answer that at this point in my life." He describes himself metaphorically as "a farmer who plants the seeds of ideas."
Maser's transition from zoologist to ecologist was touched off when the BLM reassigned him to the Forest Service research station in his home town, Corvallis, where he wandered the woods as a boy obessed with Nature
His Corvallis beat was the habitat structure of old-growth forests west of the Cascades; almost virgin territory, he recalls.
[When I was] "asking forestry questions, I got nothing but economic answers, so I started digging. Never having had a forestry course, I could view the work with a beginner's mind, as the Buddha said. A very big difference. Everybody else was focused on timber, and intuitively I knew it was the wrong issue."
He finally framed his studies on fallen trees as a medium for a biological continuum. The idea developed from a colleague's description of downed-tree functions, such as habitat, shelter, soil builder, and water reservoir
, which last for centuries after a big tree dies. The bigger the tree, the longer the function persists.
"It just clicked one day. Big, fallen timber is an extension of live, old-growth trees. If fallen trees are important as a physical link between succession stages or whatever, then we had best understand that we are liquidating finite resources."
For federal silviculturists, statutorily bound to the goal of sustained yield, the notion pushed planning horizons far beyond the term of a Douglas fir crop rotation.
Conventional wisdom had called for cutting down all the trees in a stand, hauling away the logs and big fragments, burning off the remaining debris and undergrowth to clear the site, and replanting with a preferred timber species. The trees were supposed to reach commercial size every 80 years or so, a difficult hypothesis to test in the span of a single scientific career. None could grow as big as the old giants.
Resistance grew as Maser published syntheses, such as "The Seen and Unseen World of the Fallen Tree," co-authored by James M. Trappe.
The reports urged, "We must not sacrifice the options of future generations on the altar of cost-effectiveness through decisions based on insufficient data."
Maser argued for selective harvesting to save the diversity of the forest ecology so it can absorb the shock of being logged, much as it rebounds from fire and other natural disasters.
"Flaming talks, loose ends, subliminal messages," is what one researcher recalls of Maser's seminar presentations. But his rhetoric forced forest managers and silviculturists to restudy their fundamentals while simultaneously juggling environmental protests and industry pressure to maintain harvest levels.
"Jesse Jackson used to describe himself as a tree shaker, not a jelly maker, and that's pretty much what Chris is, a tree shaker," says David Perry, a forest ecologist in Norris's OSU Forest Science department.
"But then, [Perry continues] a lot of the issues we're dealing with right now
are just damn difficult, if not impossible, to test in the standard mode. Nevertheless, it's very important to get them out on the table and get people talking about them and set the wheels in motion, which is his strong point."
Bob Lease, a forester for Region 6 of the U.S. Forest Service who writes the logging specifications for national forest timber sales, agrees.
"Maser's work identified a number of issues that are now on the tips of our tongues almost daily, whereas years ago the standard process was to clearcut and then turn everything black," Lease said. "Just waving that flag and making us stop and think about the other parts of the forest system was, I think, an important contribution."
In the Sept-Oct. 1991 issue of American Forests, N. Taylor Gregg wrote an article titled: Will "new forestry" save old forests? He wrote, in part:
In the Forest Service's Blue River, Oregon, research center, Jerry Franklin, Chris Maser, Steve Eubanks, Fred Swanson, and others working with the H. J. Andrews Experimental Forest put together what has come to be known as New Forestry (see American Forests, November/December 1989). Still somewhat amorphous in the eyes of many who did not have a hand in its development, New Forestry is nevertheless being tested now at various locations around the country. …
Eubanks recalls the time when the group was sitting around trying to decide what to call New Forestry, and he notes that of the many possibilities the name they actually preferred was "Ecosystem Management." But it was the other one that stuck. He says a negative result has been the message many foresters perceived that what they had been doing for so many years was wrong. For others, the word new seemed to deny that old practices are a part of New Forestry.
Eubanks refers to a management strategy proposed by Chris Maser, another member of the group, that calls for two short rotations and then a 300-year rotation. Eubanks suggests that an alternative would be more moderate rotations of 80 to 120 years, which he feels would "still perpetuate those characteristics of the ecosystem we feel are important."
However radical in terms of traditional harvesting some New Forestry practices may seem, Chris Maser—now a writer (best known for The Redesigned Forest) and consultant—feels they don't go far enough. Maser is at pains to put some distance between himself and "the answer" he thinks others, including Jerry Franklin, see in New Forestry. Calling it "not the answer but just a new look at old forestry," he says that New Forestry is still too commodity oriented and will not really take us much farther down the road.
Maser says the problem lies with not asking the right questions. "The great need in America today is to find a way to balance our material desires with nature," he says. "We need to find a balance between the two, but we will not find that until we go beyond commodity thinking. In New Forestry the product is still more important than the process, and we are still trying to manage nature rather than work in harmony with it. In reality we have no answers, and are still groping for the right questions." He endorses the vision from which New Forestry sprang, but not New Forestry as it is being practiced now.
On the subject of RPA and New Perspectives, Maser is more positive. "New Perspectives is much more important than New Forestry will ever be," he says, because it attempts to free up the thinking of Forest Service decision-makers and allows them to address the changes that Maser feels are both necessary and inevitable. Like Eubanks with New Forestry, he wishes the Forest Service had eschewed the word new and would rename the program Changing Perspectives to prevent what is new today from becoming sacred tomorrow.
"Change is the only thing we can count on, and we are still choosing where that will take us," he adds.
Although Maser says that New Forestry is still stuck in the old paradigm, he feels we do know enough now to manage old-growth forests. But he decries some of the new research, including use of more moderate rotations because he says they will not allow time for old-growth processes to re-create themselves. He says we can always grow big trees, but what you will have is simply a new form of tree plantation. "In order to perpetuate real old-growth, you need extended rotations on the order of 200 to 400 years. In the meantime, we need to maintain enough of the present old-growth as a parts catalog and blueprint we can study before it dies."
In 1992, Jon R. Luoma wrote an article in Discover Magazine titled, "An Untidy Wonder: For two decades a team of scientists has been trying to find out what makes a forest work." The following a quote is from the article:
The Andrews researchers would learn, in time, that huge downed logs in the old-growth forest play a host of previously unsuspected leading roles. One of the most subtle, and surprising, is as a hidden link in a tightly knit ecological chain involving tiny rodents, a pungent fungus, and giant living trees.
The discovery began in the early 1970s with a field trip to the ancient forest organized by [Jerry] Franklin for mycologist Jim Trappe and mammalogist Chris Maser. Trappe and Maser had never met before, and in the car with Franklin that day, Trappe began to tell Maser all about his professional passion: truffles. These fungi, which live deep in the soil, cannot photosynthesize. Instead, the fungal colony actually grows into and penetrates the finest, hairlike rootlets of trees to extract stored sugars from the root cells.
But, as Trappe explained, the relationship is mutual. When roots and fungi combine in such a way, they acquire a joint name, mycorrhizae. These mycorrhizae work almost as one organism to support both truffle and tree. Fed by the sugars photosynthesized in the tree canopy, the fungi grow long tendrils, called hyphae, thinner than a human hair, which extend in great webs through the soil. Their reach is far more extensive than the root system itself. The fungal hyphae are efficient absorbers of water from the soil. And they are far more efficient than the roots at reaching and extracting the vital nutrient phosphorus, important to all plants for the formation of nucleic acids. Much of the phosphorus is bound up in complex molecules that are not soluble in water and therefore cannot be easily absorbed by cells. But the fungi produce copious amounts of enzymes that liberate the phosphorus and make it soluble. Further, the extensive reach of the mycorrhizal fungi allows a tree to locate more of the nutrient. It is as if the roots are fishhooks, says Trappe, but the truffles are like a net, tapping every nook and cranny of the soil.
The truffles, Trappe went on to tell Maser, share both the water and the nutrients they extract from the soil with the roots and, hence, with the tree itself. At the same time, they form a sort of protective shield around the roots against disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and can actually infuse the soil with antibiotics. The fungi also secrete a polysaccharide that functions as a kind of organic glue, helping tiny soil particles clump together; that clumping, in turn, creates a looser, more open soil environment in which water and oxygen can flow.
Intrigued by all this, Maser mentioned that mycologists and gourmands might not be the only creatures interested in truffles: many of the small mammals he had been studying were eating fungi, and he wondered if truffles made up any part of their diet. Not long afterward, Maser caught a red-backed vole, a small rodent similar to a mouse, and he sent a sample of its stomach contents to Trappe's lab at Oregon State University. Trappe examined it under a microscope and instantly recognized that the stomach was loaded with telltale tiny serrated and ridged fungal spores. The vole's diet, in fact, consisted entirely of truffles.
Trappe and Maser's studies in subsequent months showed that the fungi are a major and nutritious part of the diet of several small creatures, including northern flying squirrels. Analysis of these rodents' fecal pellets showed that millions of tiny reproductive spores passed through their bodies undigested.
As it turned out, there was a good ecological reason for that. Trappe and Maser and a small group of colleagues gradually pieced together a textbook case of a tightly linked circular chain of interdependency: When a giant fir or hemlock tree dies and crashes to earth, it begins to rot slowly. In a century or more its soft, decayed wood becomes habitat for burrowing voles, who in turn subsist on truffles and distribute reproductive spores throughout the forest in their fecal pellets. The fungi that grow from those spores simultaneously provide more food for the voles and work mutually with the new roots of young trees that will grow to towering size and, centuries hence, crash to earth to begin the cycle anew.
This inoculation of the forest with spores is especially critical after a fire or a devastating windstorm. The disturbance may kill many of the trees the mycorrhizae depend on. But even in a raging wildfire, the wet, spongy logs provide refuge for the small rodents that will not only repopulate the forest but also help the forest itself recover by redistributing fungal spores throughout the soil.
Moreover, the Andrews researchers learned, rotting logs in the old-growth forests did far more than house a few voles and truffles. A single acre in a 500-year-old stand may hold 80 tons of logs in various stages of rot. Laced across the forest floor, they help hold soils in place and abate erosion. For some tree species in the region, including hemlocks and Sitka spruce, the logs serve as nurses for seedlings. While the seedlings might have difficulty sprouting on the moss-matted floor of the forest, they can easily implant themselves in the soil like layer of decayed bark, wood, twigs, needles, and other forest litter that accumulates on top of the fallen nurse-log.
When the logs become extremely decayed, they fragment into pieces that merge with the forest soil. In fact, says Trappe, by sorting the brownish fragments from soil samples centimeter by centimeter, he and his colleagues learned that as much as half of what appeared to be soil in the forest was actually pieces of rotted log. Those masses of rotted wood, he says, are spongy and hold many times their own weight in water. They're an ideal niche that rootlets and mycorrhizae can develop in.
This discovery wouldn't have been made without the entire Andrews study. Yet the study almost didn't happen. The Andrews forest was specifically established as an experimental site by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1940s to give scientists a place to conduct research. But research on forests in those days had nothing to do with understanding entire ecosystems—and certainly not old-growth ecosystems, characterized by trees 200 to 1,000 and more years old.
Well into the 1980s both the Forest Service and loggers assumed that virtually all the old growth was going to be sawed down. The conventional wisdom of forestry science was that such ancient forests were decadent. After all, many of the trees are approaching the end of their long lives. Although their wood is superbly clear, strong, and hence valuable, it is also more susceptible to rot. Individual trees in an old-growth forest might be immensely valuable, but the forest as a whole is in a sort of biological steady state. New trees seed and grow. Old trees die. Acre for acre the forest neither loses nor gains any wood. From a wood-production perspective, the old-growth forest is like a savings bond that has ceased to accumulate interest.
A younger forest, on the other hand, grows more rapidly and accumulates more wood fiber, like interest, every year. So the essence of scientific forestry has been to cash in the value of natural forests, replacing them with neatly planted crops of the most economically valuable trees.
By the early 1970s the standard recipe for managing most of the vast public forests in the American West went like this: log out the old growth; burn over the land to clean up the clear-cut site; dose it with herbicides to knock out any unwanted competing plants or trees; and seed the landscape with uniform plantations of valuable trees, usually Douglas fir. This thrifty young (as opposed to decadent) forest would be managed to promote the maximum growth of that single species.
Also in 1992, Dr. Steven Taubeneck wrote "A Working Paper" under the title of ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS: SUSTAINABILITY, COMPETITION, & FORESTRY. It was Published by The Centre for Applied Ethics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada:
…Chris Maser's most prominent book was published in 1988 and is entitled—The Redesigned Forest. He uses the notion of a "redesigned" forest in order to differentiate his approach from the 'forest management' school of the U.S. Forest Service. Maser worked for twenty years as a research scientist for the Forest Service, and includes many useful details in his book. The biggest problem with his book, however, is the patronizing, evangelical polemic dominating almost every page. The evangelical tone threatens to discount his most valuable insights. A characteristic passage appears at the end of the introduction:
Three things I would like you to understand before you read this book. First, I recognize, as we strive to maintain sustainable forests, that we are faced with the constant struggle of accepting change and its accompanying uncertainties and this often gives rise to fear of the future. We must therefore be gentle with one another and do whatever we do with love because there are no "enemies" out there, only frightened people. Second, ideas change the world; people change ideas. And people must change before ideas will change. Third, all we have in the world as human beings is each other; if we lose sight of each other, we have nothing.
Certainly the emotional proselytizing of this passage is quite different from the German perspectives I have shown earlier.
This is not to discount Maser's work altogether. The main point of his book, and he often refers to the history of German forestry for support, is that a forest consists as much of what is below the ground as it does of what is above. To "redesign" the forest, then, involves an increased awareness of root structures, water run-off patterns, planting strategies, and soil toxicity. His argument is that "we must have a sustainable forest before we can have a sustainable yield." We cannot allow our forests to be treated as "short-term tree plantations." The evidence he gives in support of these arguments is impressive, and I can recommend them to you. The problem is the nearly fundamentalist quality of his agrarian utopianism.
On February 22, 1994, Gerald W. Williams, Ph.D, Historical Analyst with the USDA Forest Service Office of Communication, Washington, D.C., spoke to the Society of American Foresters in Indianapolis, IN. The following is a brief except from his speech, which was entitled "Ecosystem Management: How Did We Get Here?"
Jerry Franklin, formerly with the Forest Service, and Chris Maser, formerly with the Bureau of Land Management, are often considered as "gurus" of the new forestry approach to forest management (Brown 1990). The findings of decades of important scientific forest research have provided much needed clues to the long-term health and productivity of the coniferous forests of the northwest. Because of extensive research carried out on the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest (part of the Willamette National Forest), Franklin and Maser were able to make some preliminary conclusions that indicated there was more to the forest than the trees. They led the Forest Service into new forestry as a search for alternative ways to manage the federal forests. Interestingly, this push for change has come from inside the agencies, rather than from external pressure from interest groups or Congress. (Craig Brown. 1990. New Forestry, Old Arguments: Biologist Jerry Franklin and Other Scientists are Proposing a Forestry Revolution, but Industry and Environmentalists are Sticking to Their Guns. Oregon Business Magazine Vol. 13(12):28-29, 33-34.)
On March 21, 1994, Dennis P. Bradley a forest economist with the USDA Forest Service at the North Central Forest Experiment Station in St. Paul, MN, wrote in Eco-Watch:
Chris Maser, an ecologist at the very center of the ecosystem management movement, wrote a book in 1988 entitled The Redesigned Forest in which he outlined some significant problems of how we see the world, and—based on this vision (in his view, erroneous)—what we may have done to forests (and in by implication, to other kinds of ecosystems). Many of these changes, while motivated by good intentions, he believes are irreversible. In the course of the book, he made a number of parallel contrasts which attempted to show what forests actually are or do—to describe the inherent nature of forests—with how humans generally and erroneously, see forests, and how they attempt to make them into something else. Generally speaking, his point is that this "something else" is impossible, unlikely, or undesirable. I found his imagery powerful.
However, while I sympathize with his objective and agreed to most of his points, his way of speaking about Nature—in particular as if Nature is conscious of itself, and as if it had intentions or "ends in mind", is not as compelling as it might have been. In my view, his anthropocentric language merely substituted one ideology and all its inherent confusion, for another. Moreover, I think he makes several other more serious ontological errors, which may be important. Ontology is a philosophical term for our axiomatic and, by definition, unprovable premises/beliefs/assertions about what the world is made of, and how it works. Of course, most if not all of these premises are based on human experience, insights, and intuitions but for a variety of complex reasons cannot be settled for all time. In short, these notions may be wrong and we can never be certain, although we may have sound indications one way or the other. Ontology deals with such notions as time, space, substance, thing, motion, and change. Needless to say, these notions are important but are generally taken for granted. As we come to grasp the significance of ecosystems and our place in them, believe me, these notions are of the utmost importance. Indeed, I believe that many of our recent natural resource controversies and their social implications result in large part from a profound confusion and error concerning the ontological possibilities of ecosystems.
In any event, since I thought that Maser's original impulse was a worthy one, I took the liberty of modifying and adding to these contrasts. I don't herein show his original set, nor itemize the specific reasons why I think each one of these phrasings might be better. But in the least, the first statement of each of my modified contrasts—in place of talking of what Nature is, or does, or thinks states in its place, some ontological "fact" about the world and how this ontological "fact" manifests itself in forest ecosystem realities or possibilities. The manifestations I mention follow Maser's lead in most cases. The second half of the contrast then speaks about how current forest practices or attitudes either ignore or misunderstand what these ontological "facts" suggest is doable—or more often, what may not be doable. Further, I use the phrase "we —to suggest the utterance of a well-meaning but willful child who wished something were otherwise.
What do you think?
1. Forests and ecosystems are ever-changing continuums of living and non-living things and processes—embedded in time.
We would design forests as rigid monocultures—suspended from time.
2. Forests are complex landscapes whose patterns reflect crucial underlying structure and process.
We would design forests which largely ignore these structures and processes and their imperatives for pattern.
3. Forests are mixtures of living and non-living things and processes which are:
Dynamic yet relatively stable.
We would design forests requiring frequently destructive, ultimately impossible subsidies of energy, fertilizer, pesticides, and even water.
4. Diversity is a fundamental property of forests and other ecosystems, and emerges for many "reasons" at many system levels—from chemical compounds through species and communities, to galaxies.
We would design forests with simplistic uniformity for only one "reason": Efficient Commodity Production.
5. The world and its forests reflect various laws of impossibility—of physics and thermodynamics—not trends.
We would design forests that vainly ignore these laws for short-term, and increasingly trivial cravings.
6. The world and its forests are co-evolving and interrelated systems of things and processes meeting many "ends" and functions. Energy and materials which "fuel" these processes do not merely pass through but remain as wastes with subsequent effects on processes.
We would design forests imagining that they can give up huge portions of their matter and energy for only human ends, to be consumed elsewhere, largely ignoring the effects of waste on subsequent processes.
7. Ecosystems and forest are inherently value-neutral, and we are largely ignorant of their functional and dynamic interrelations.
We would presume to judge which components and processes are good or bad—which is to say, which ones suit current human values and moral vision.
8. The direction of the world and its forests is largely unpredictable and their moral implications ambiguous—but it works! What is more, it so far still includes us.
We would design machine-like forests, forever altering the possibilities of a robust creation.
The general tenor of these contrasts is that while we have come to know much about ecosystems, that with enough time we may learn more, that human needs are compelling, and that we must unavoidably use forests to meet these needs, there are a number of things beyond our ken. Such limits exist not only because of the limited ability of humans to understand and to steer the world, but especially because of the co-evolving nature of human and biospheric interactions. Our efforts will always come up short because our observing and theorizing will always be behind the state of the world—knowledge will always lag a largely emergent reality, influenced if not set in motion by our own economically motivated action.
Yet, these statements are not meant to suggest that nothing can be done. On the contrary, we have already seen in our efforts across a wide range of natural and social sciences, using a wide-ranging set of material and social criteria, and over an amazingly short time, that we can accomplish much. Confronting such limits may help reduce if not eliminate the hubris that characterizes much recent boasting about our ability to steer ecosystems toward, in the current vernacular, a "desired future condition". For sustainability is a dialectic notion; that is, one that—due to continuous and often emergent change in both the material and social world—can never be settled for all time. It is a notion forever chasing its own tail. Moreover, it is a notion confounded with moral and aesthetic dimensions for it embodies human ends and purpose as well as material understanding. While we may be forced by material necessity to redesign forests, caution will be a useful virtue indeed. Claims to have developed sustainable forest practices are unwarranted, more than likely will always be so, and most dangerously, continue to obscure possibilities and delay necessarily tentative but more realistic actions.
Also in 1994, I revised and expanded "The Redesigned Forest," which I retitled "Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics." The message, however, was the same. In the Foreword to this new edition, M. Rupert Cutler, who was the Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of the U.S. Forest Service in the Carter administration, wrote:
'The obstacles to discovery—the illusions of knowledge—are also part of our story. Only against the forgotten backdrop of the received common sense and myths of their time can we begin to sense the courage, the rashness, the heroic and imaginative thrusts of the great discoverers. They had to battle against the current "facts" and "dogmas of the learned." Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers.
Amid the cascade of helpful new books and papers on the science of sustainable forest management and the art of environmental conflict management, this heartfelt call for reform by Chris Maser stands out as unique. For Maser is a discoverer charting a new course, and his thesis is compelling. Here, an experienced forest ecologist asks all the battle-weary forestry-policy combatants, without exception, to adopt a radical new mindset or attitude, for the sake of our forests, ourselves, and future generations.
I have heard Chris Maser roundly criticized for being impractical and impatient. Economists ask, who will pay the bills to implement his go-slow approach—the cost of finding the needed ecological facts and the cost of applying the research results on private as well as public lands? Ecologists respond, we can see the forest-management future on the current trajectory, and it doesn't work.
What will be the cost to our descendants of our failure to make a forest-management course correction now and, instead, present them with an impoverished landscape?
Or don't we care?
Nevertheless, the new edition, like the old, was poorly received within the forestry profession:
Judging from the title, "Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics" is intended to cover a lot of ground. Regrettably, however, the book fails to deliver because of blurred vision and a lack of depth. The book begins with a description of forest ecology. Here Chris Maser, as an ecologist, is in his element, and the book is both informative and entertaining. But Maser's subsequent travels into philosophy and economics fizzle. The philosophical discussions are often tangential to sustainability and seem contrived to fit the author's immediate needs.
Utah State University, Logan;
American Scientist, 1995, volume 83
Lilieholm writes, in the second to the last paragraph of his review: "In his conclusion, Maser advocates increased environmental protections for U.S. forests to demonstrate to the world our commitment to sustainability. Say what? U.S. consumers are the most voracious in the world and are hardly candidates for global role models. In fact, one could argue that our current environmental protections, coupled with free trade, simply export the production of 'messy' goods to other parts of the globe. Such 'exporting' of environmental degradation from developed nations shares some responsibility for the appalling environmental conditions found in many developing countries."
Implicit in this statement is the often-heard refrain that this is simply the way we are, as though we somehow cannot change. I submit, however, that it is precisely because we are the most voracious consumers in the world that we must raise the level of our consciousness and become the world's role models if sustainability is to be anything more than a hopeful daydream. Environmental protection is the necessity to which economics must adapt—not the other way around. Economics without humility is every bit as dangerous as science without morality. And Western society (particularly in the United States) is at best unhumble or we would not be forcing the rest of the world to fulfill our economic appetites, which are the outgrowths of our appalling lack of self-discipline.
A September hike on Three-Fingered Jack, Oregon Cascade Mountains.
In the early 1990s, Randal O'Toole wrote a memo to President Clinton, titled: "The Forest Service Has Already Been Reinvented—and You Fired the Man Who Oversaw It." The memo was in five parts: (1) Before the Revolution, (2) The Revolt of the Line Officers, (3) The Revolt of the Timber Staff, (4) The Revolt of the Scientists, (5) After the Revolution. O'Toole began his memo with a few introductory paragraphs:
When Bill Clinton was running for president, he promised to resolve the Northwest forest debate. After he became president, he promised to reinvent the Forest Service.
But the 1980s had already witnessed a revolution within the Forest Service. When Clinton took office in 1993, the Forest Service was a completely different agency from what it had been in 1981, when Jimmy Carter left the White House.
This revolution produced the greatest change in national forest management since the late 1940s, when the agency's primary goal moved from fire suppression to timber sales. The effects of the more recent revolution are clearly shown by a chart showing that national forest timber sales have fallen by more than two-thirds.
Contrary to popular belief, the reduction in timber sales and other changes happened not in spite of the Forest Service, but because of it. In 1993, agency leaders were far less enthusiastic about timber and far more concerned about practicing true ecosystem management than they were in the late 1970s.
Environmental lawsuits, lobbying, and other pressures certainly contributed to this change. But so many other factors were involved that environmentalists really were little more than a Greek chorus: Urging events onward but not playing the starring role.
Under part four, the revolt of the scientists, O'Toole goes on to say:
Attention was focused on the spotted owl because it was a well-studied species. But environmentalists realized that the owl was only a symbol for all of the other species that seemed to rely on old-growth. The 1981 paper by Franklin and the other scientists listed sixteen birds and mammals that found optimum habitat in old growth. As research accumulated, the list grew rapidly; it now includes over 180 species.
All of this attention put pressure on the scientists to break the rules and get involved in politics. For one thing, they believed in the goals of the Endangered Species Act. But they also worried that the focus on the spotted owl might leave some species behind. Would a plan tailored to the owl guarantee survival for the northern flying squirrel, silver-haired bat, or Townsend's warbler?
The first scientist to break ranks was Chris Maser. As a wildlife biologist, he had written many important papers on the role and needs of mammals in Northwest forests. But he was in a difficult position: Unlike Franklin, who was paid by the Forest Service, or several of the other scientists who worked for Oregon State University, Maser was an employee of the Bureau of Land Management.
The BLM was far more monolithic and less tolerant of dissent than the Forest Service. But its research budget was tiny, and though it paid Maser's paycheck he was really on loan to the Forest Service research station. This meant that Maser's career path was very short—he knew from the first day he took the job that he would "never be chief."
Maser had also spent several years in Nepal studying Asian forestry during the 1960s. Suddenly, he began combining eastern philosophy with western biology to advocate changes in forest management. He quickly became a sort of Jesse Jackson of forestry, with quick slogans for any situation: "As we think, so we manage"; "We are as free as our imaginations."
Right-brained environmentalists gave him standing ovations. His approach inspired many forest managers. But he quickly lost credibility among scientists.
In March 1994, Jim Furnish, Forest Supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest, was part of a panel discussion titled "Perspectives on the Management of Oregon Coast Range Forests." The following is his presentation:
I received a provocative and compelling book the other day, compliments of Chuck Willer of the Coast Range Association. Perhaps you've seen or heard of it—"CLEARCUT: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry"—published by Sierra Club. If you prefer looking backward instead of forward, the impact of the images and ideas in this book can only be described as deeply disturbing—as I'm sure the authors intended. The images have an emotional power, and the ideas an intellectual power, that speak to a wrongheaded legacy wrought on the land.
I have taken an excerpt from that book written by Chris Maser, a Corvallis author and consultant on sustainable forestry:
Nature designed a forest as an experiment in unpredictability; we are trying to design a regulated forest.
Nature designed a forest over a landscape; we are trying to design a forest on each hectare.
Nature designed a forest with diversity; we are trying to design a forest with simplistic uniformity.
Nature designed a forest of interrelated processes; we are trying to design a forest based on isolated products.
Nature designed a forest in which all elements are neutral; we are trying to design a forest in which we perceive some elements to be good and others bad.
Nature designed a forest to be a flexible, timeless continuum of species; we are trying to design a forest to be a rigid, time-constrained monoculture.
Nature designed a forest of long-term trends; we are trying to design a forest of short-term absolutes.
Nature designed a forest to be self-sustaining and self-repairing; we are designing a forest to require increasing external subsidies—fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.
Nature designed forests of the Pacific Northwest to live 500 to 1,200 years; we are designing a forest that may live 100 years.
Nature designed Pacific Northwest forests to be unique in the world, with twenty-five species of conifers, the longest lived and the largest of their genera anywhere; we are designing a forest that is largely a single-species on a short rotation.
Everything we humans have been doing to the forest is an attempt to push nature to a higher sustained yield. We fail to recognize, however, that we must have a sustainable forest before we can have a sustainable yield (harvest). In other words, we cannot have a sustainable yield until we have a sustainable forest. We must have a sustainable forest to have a sustainable yield; we must have a sustainable yield to have a sustainable industry; we must have a sustainable industry to have a sustainable economy; we must have a sustainable economy to have a sustainable society.
As a Forest Supervisor of a forest of which he speaks, what have I got to say about this? Three things—uncle, thank you, and please. Let me explain
Where I grew up "Uncle" was a term to indicate submission. The glimpse we've all had of the President's Forest Plan for the Northwest I think provides ample evidence that management of federal lands is forever altered. The legal system has been used very effectively to bend our arm just about to the breaking point. It's my hope that the Forest Plan serves as an overt admission that old methods were not sustainable, that we can just say "Uncle," pick ourselves up off the ground and get busy finding out if new ideas achieve what we're after.
Second, "Thank you," because if it were not for the dogged, unstinting efforts of the conservation community these past many years (far TOO many, I might add), we would not be at this threshold today. My deepest regret is that so much trust has been eroded in the struggle that it will be difficult to develop constructive and healthy working relationships for the future. Difficulty alone should not dissuade us from the task, however, because I believe healthy working relationships are imperative for future success.
Third, "Please." I say please because it's hard to turn a big ship on a dime. I don't want this to sound like whining, but I'm asking for a little indulgence in turning the Siuslaw National Forest in a new direction. Humility is in, smugness is out, and we'll be needing help and support from many sources—research, local government, conservation groups and industry alike. After all, this is ultimately about managing spectacular and at-risk resources more than it is about the Forest Service. As long as we keep our eyes on the land, hopefully old fences will come down.
In summary, I would generalize by saying that the Forest Service has been accused of practicing industrial forestry on public lands, and found guilty, although we did it as well or better than anyone. But there is no right way to do the wrong thing. Now we need to develop a new art, that of ecosystem management.
I see federal lands in the Coast Range emerging with a short term objective of refugia or reserves. Issues related to recovery of threatened and endangered species—owls, murrelets, and soon salmonids—are so pervasive and overwhelming as to dominate our management just as timber production did only a few years ago. I will not presume to guess what lies beyond the next few years, but it is my hope that federal lands can effectively fill a niche of providing significant large areas of late successional forest in the Coast Range. And that our management of these areas will make a telling difference in the recovery of those species dependent on such habitats. This is a responsibility I take seriously. For I fear that the appearance, structure, and function of federal and private forests are on a sharply divergent track. I believe that federal lands must shoulder the load if there is to be any meaningful future evidence in the Coast Range of the incredible magnificence of the coastal temperate rainforest.
Several years later, the wheel has come full circle. For example, thinking of forestry as an evolution in consciousness, Frederick J. Deneke, assistant director of the USDA Forest Service Cooperative Forestry Program in Washington, D.C., wrote in the January 1998 issue of the Journal of Forestry that he had of late "been stepping back and observing the drama being played out over the perceived appearances of good and evil in the practice of forestry in the United States." The practice of forestry, as viewed by Deneke, is not a matter of good versus evil, but rather a matter of human consciousness, which has been continually evolving when it comes to understanding our relationship with Nature. There is, says Deneke, a range of consciousness in a society, such as ours, at any given time that could be characterized as "the unenlightened, the mainstream, the leading edge, and voices crying in the wilderness."
The timber barons who leveled the great forests of the eastern half of the United States at the turn of the century would today be characterized, according to Deneke, as the unenlightened, whereas landowners engaged in a certain level of trusteeship of the land would probably represent the center of consciousness. On the leading edge were people like Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the newly created U.S. Forest Service, while John Muir and Henry David Thoreau were the voices crying in the wilderness. The leading edge from the 1930s to the 1950s, according to Deneke, would have been represented by Aldo Leopold, Supervisor of the Carson National Forest in New Mexico and later professor of wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, or perhaps by an advocate for wilderness like Robert Marshall.
The leading edge of Pinchot's time, contends Deneke, is today "smack dab" in the center of mainstream forestry due largely to what is being taught in university schools of forestry (See pages 77-89 in "Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics" Sustainable Forestry). Today's training in much of the forestry profession, according to articles by Greg Brown and Chuck Harris (January 1998 issue of the Journal of Forestry) and Boris Zeide (also in the January 1998 issue of the Journal of Forestry), results in professional foresters, such as those in the U.S. Forest Service, embracing the utilitarian land ethic of Pinchot's time more than do wildlife biologists and other specialists in natural resources, although perhaps not to such an extreme as that expressed by Karl F. Wenger, President of the Society of American Foresters. Wenger wrote a commentary in the January 1998 issue of the Journal of Forestry on his perception of why forests need to be managed:
The fact is, Nature knows nothing. Nature is deaf, dumb, blind, and unconscious.
It reacts blindly and unconsciously according to the properties and characteristics of its components. These have no intrinsic values, since only the human race can assign values. Nature doesn't care what we do to it.
Clearly, the people's needs are satisfied much more abundantly by managed than be unmanaged forests.
Despite such a narrow view, Deneke thinks the concepts of ecosystem management and sustainable development are further out on the leading edge of consciousness, where people are working together at the level of water catchments and landscapes to resolve issues concerning natural resources. In contrast to the above mainstream thinking and the current leading edge, "a present-day example of a voice crying in the wilderness could be Chris Maser and his work with sustainable forestry." Somewhere in time, contends Deneke, Maser's work may become mainstream, and new voices will emerge to cry in the wilderness. The challenge for the generations of the future will be to find and follow those voices based on a sound ethical foundation of human values informed by the latest scientific understanding.
"Blessed are those on the leading edge," writes Deneke, "and the voices in the wilderness, who compassionately show us the way by their example," all the while knowing that the cause of the problems—and thus the answers—lie within us and will be derived from how we carry out our work and how we see and treat ourselves and one another, which is but a mirror reflection of our own world view. They teach us, says Deneke, that the solutions to environmental problems are not in projecting blame, but rather in working together to help one another maintain dignity as we clean up our own individual and collective back yards.
"Those on the leading edge are the early implementers of the ideas emanating from the voices in the wilderness." They integrate their minds and hearts as they work together for practical and peaceful solutions for the common good. "What is going on at any point in time is not a matter of right versus wrong or good versus evil," says Deneke, but rather "a reflection of where the mainstream of consciousness is at that time."
Somehow, within a decade, I have gone from a dangerous heretic to a "discoverer," to a "voice crying in the wilderness," a voice that helps those on the leading edge to implement changing ideas about the profession of forestry and the sustainability of its practices.
John A. Helms (chair of the Society of American Foresters "Forest Science and Technology Board"), writing in the March 1998 issue of the Journal of Forestry, says: "Foresters must regain prominence in developing the concept of sustainable forestry. This requires us to be better informed," and he recommended two books, the first of which was "Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics" Sustainable Forestry
In 1996, I was asked to take part in my first assessment of a forest for certification with SmartWood, a nonprofit organization accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. I agreed, and have since been on a number of assessment teams with SmartWood and Scientific Certification Systems, also accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council—including: Mendocino Redwood Company in California; Hupa Reservation in California; Washington State Department of Natural Resources; and Fort Lewis in Washington.
In 1997, Eric Katz wrote on page 140 in his book Nature As Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community, which was published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD:
". . . Maser is an interesting case because, . . . he is a committed environmentalist, indeed a hero to enlightened foresters and government officials dealing with practical environmental policy. But a philosophical analysis of his views clearly reveals the perspective of a human imperialism over nature. . . ."
By 2000, I was invited to join the "Technical Standards Committee," an ecological advisory committee to the Board of Directors of the Forest Stewardship Council-US. While on that committee, I was appointed the lead author of a four-person team, the "Drafting Committee," to write the initial set of National Indicators, which have served as the baseline standards for regional, forest-certification assessments in the U.S.
In January, 2003, Rob Mrowka wrote a paper titled, "Thoughts Upon Leaving the Agency I love," part of which is quoted here:
This paper is a passage for me—a short memoir of my personal journey as a foot soldier for management improvement, ecosystem management policy, and the struggle for change in the Forest Service. It also provides an explanation for why one who has always worn "green underwear" would leave the Agency he loves early with penalty and still wanting to serve.
As such, you should expect this essay to be very biased—it is after all my personal perspective and recollection. My hypothesis and conclusion is that the current Administration and Chief represent a break in the forward thinking evolution of ecosystem management policy that began in 1985 in a Republican Administration under Chief Robertson, and which continued through two Democratic terms under Chiefs Thomas and Dombeck. As stated in a December 4, 2002, editorial in the Seattle Times, "The Bush Administration's curious retreat on environmental protections in the nation's 155 national forests and grasslands is oddly out of step with changing public attitudes
. The proposals are at odds with an evolution within the U.S. Forest Service, which saw its old constituencies move in new directions."
While some will attempt to dismiss this essay as politically-motivated, I want to make it clear that, like former Deputy Chief Jim Furnish before me, I do not intend my remarks in a partisan way. There have been environmentally sound policies and initiatives promulgated under both parties. Rather, I view my differences with the current Administration and Chief as being based on differing land ethics.
Ethics are not right or wrong—they are based on one's personal value system. But one ethic can be better or worse for accomplishing a goal, such as moving and positioning the Agency to meet our stewardship responsibilities. During the past two years, a deep divide has arisen between my land ethics and where the Administration is taking the Forest Service. I feel strongly that as an Agency we are drifting further out of touch with the vast majority of the American public and from the policies needed for long-term sustainability of our ecosystems and society.
My land ethic is a big part of my core values, and is critically important to me, and it is because I no longer feel I can live my ethics that I am now leaving the Forest Service.
Like many my age, I came to the Forest Service an eager utilitarian in the mold of the God-father—Gifford Pinchot. I left a promising career as an Air Force officer, taking a 50% pay cut, to resume the dream I had had since I was six—to be a forest ranger. I joined the FS in 1976—the year of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), a coincidence that ultimately would lead both to some of the highlights of my career as well as my need to leave early and before I would have liked.
I served as a district and forest silviculturist most of my field career, being certified for over 12 years. During most of this time I fully bought into the regulated forest model and saw the forest largely as the trees and the commodity and non-commodity benefits they provided. After all, that is what we were taught in school in the good European tradition.
Notions of the intrinsic values of forests, species, old growth, unroaded areas and ecosystems never entered my mind.
Silvicultural Certification did significantly broaden my perspectives and instilled in me an inherent appreciation for establishing a good ecological basis for management actions. But sciences, such as conservation biology, landscape ecology, and the human dimensions of forest management, were not even taught or discussed in the early 1980s.
In my view, it was through the leadership of Jerry Franklin, Chris Maser, and Hal Salwassser and the New Forestry/New Perspectives philosophy that the FS awakened to the new emerging sciences and the fact that forests are more than just an aggregation of trees.
In 2004, Robert S. Seymour (Hutchins Professor of Forest Resources, Department of Forest Ecosystem Science, University of Maine, Orono) had a paper published in the Proceedings of the Great Lakes Silviculture Summit, which was published by the North Central Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service. In his article, Seymour said:
Chris Maser's (1990) book "The Redesigned Forest" [Canadian edition] unquestioningly was influential in challenging the status quo [of silviculture] in the Pacific Northwest, and in turn, the country. This debate, still very much ongoing, has caused the maturing forestry profession to reexamine its core values.
Enlightened searching in databases and the net will turn up new, incremental evidence of problems with sustained yield. The symbiotic relationship between "weed trees," such as Aspen, and preferred timber species is just one of the new discoveries that are adding to the critique of timber management begun by Chris Maser's discovery of timber management ignorance of the importance of mycorrhizae, rodents, and owls. Pacific Fringe
On February 27, 2007, a former BLM employee, Robert G. Lathrop of Sutherlin, Oregon, posted the following commentary in The News-review online:
The loss of funding for counties in Western Oregon was going to happen in spite of the cessation of logging caused by environmental lawsuits.
The first reason is that we were not managing our forests as required by law, for multiple use, and either the old growth harvest had to be drastically curtailed, or once it was gone, harvest of 40-60 year old trees would produce less, much less, money.
If value and not volume were used for determining harvest on federal lands whose management is not based on the interest rate of borrowed capital, as is industry, there could be no justification for single species, short rotations.
As I was in the Bureau of Land Management when both the BLM and United States Forest Service started harvesting and going toward short rotations, I saw it happen. Apparently, a budget decision was made in the early 1970s, which specialized federal work forces in the BLM and USFS with the intention of growing young trees faster, so we could cut mature trees [making up lost] volume due to age faster.
Though both the forestry and wildlife professionals tried to stop this, it was the simplistic idea of saving an owl that caught the eye of the public, and not the more complex study done by Chris Maser, which justified raising the rotation age and returning to forest management in a more natural state.
The massive fires predicted have now occurred. If the money spent on lawsuits had been used to aid industry to meet their financial obligations, we could now be raising the rotation age on all lands and not trying to salvage 40 million of burned over land with the loss of money that has occurred.
In 2008, Doug MacCleery wrote an article titled: "Re-Inventing The United States Forest Service: Evolution From Custodial Management, To Production Forestry, To Ecosystem Management." It appeared in: Reinventing Forestry Agencies: Experiences of Institutional Restructuring in Asia and the Pacific, and was edited by: Patrick Durst, Chris Brown, Jeremy Broadhead, Regan Suzuki, Robin Leslie and Akiko Inoguchi. Asia-Pacific Forestry Commission, FAO-UN, RAP Pub 2008/05. Two paragraphs are quoted here:
By the mid-1970s, research studies began to reveal that late-successional and old-growth forests provided essential habitats for a suite of wildlife and plant species. In 1981, a summary of this research by eight Forest Service scientists was published in Ecological characteristics of old-growth Douglas-fir forests. . . .
Scientists such as Jerry Franklin and Chris Maser began to promote a "new" style of forestry (or "New Forestry") that would reflect the concepts behind this emerging research. . . . This new forestry approach involved, among other concepts, leaving downed logs, standing dead trees, clumps of trees and other "biological legacies" within cutting areas. Franklin and Maser developed a broad media and environmental group following as they began to speak out publicly against the existing national forest timber-harvesting policies.
And so the wheel of perception continues to turn, which reminds me of a wonderful Zen story: A young Japanese girl in a small fishing village became pregnant but was still living in her parent's home. All the villagers pressed her to name the father, to point a finger at the renegade. After many angry words, she finally confessed. "It's the priest," she said. The villagers confronted the priest with the accusation. "Ah so," was all he said. For months afterward, the people were very down on this simple priest. Then a young man who had been away from the village for some time returned and asked to marry the girl. It turned out he was the father of the child, and the girl had made up an unlikely story to protect him. Then the villagers went to the priest and apologized in remorse. "Ah so," was his only response.
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