Books by Nancy Langston

Released: Oct. 1, 1995

As presented by Langston (Environmental Studies/Univ. of Wisconsin), it is no idle metaphor to state that federal forest managers could not see the forest for the trees in pursuit of an efficient means of harvesting timber in Oregon's Blue Mountains. Langston's thoroughly researched and balanced study traces the tragic but well-intentioned policies practiced in the early 20th century by foresters seeking to maintain a sustained-yield economy but lacking cognizance of the ecology of old-growth forests. Adopting an ethic that the forest in its natural condition was ``decadent, wasteful, and inefficient,'' and spurred to action by the rapacious logging activities of corporate timber interests, the early Forest Service sought to regulate forest growth so that a continual harvest of desirable ponderosa pine would be available to logging companies. In return, the loggers had to observe the scientific guidelines set forth by early reformers such as George Perkins Marsh and Gifford Pinchot. But the science was flawed. Not only did the ponderosa vanish, but Douglas firs fell victim to insects and disease related to intensive clear-cutting of old growth trees. Fire suppression similarly had unintended negative effects, as did the Forest Service's grazing leases. And during the Depression even more cutting was encouraged to maintain profits. But it is the paradox of the title that lies at the heart of the problem: ``The more managers alter a forest, the less they can predict the paths that [tree] succession will take.'' While noting that there can be no return to the original forest in the Blues, Langston counsels that we can restore it to biological health if we substitute ideals of ``commodity production'' with ``ideals which allow for complexity, diversity, and uncertainty.'' This is an important and accessible contribution to recent forest-ecology literature, and required reading for all federal and state officials. (25 illustrations, 3 figures, 4 maps) Read full book review >