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IN A DARK WOOD by Alston Chase

IN A DARK WOOD

The Fight Over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology

By Alston Chase

Pub Date: Oct. 27th, 1995
ISBN: 0-395-60837-6
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

 Environmental bad boy Chase (Playing God in Yellowstone, 1986, etc.) takes on biocentrism and the Endangered Species Act in this delightfully angry if at times snide volume. Pretty much from the word go, this country's responses to the environmental needs of the land have been inadequate, suggests Chase, but the currently voguish notion of ``ecosystems'' is egregious in the extreme. He traces the roots of this concept back to its holistic/monistic source: It reflects the long line of thinking from ``Puritans longing for salvation through intimacy with God in nature'' right up to the preservationists' notion of nature as self-regulator (a particular bugbear of Chase's). Quaint ideas, scolds the author, unscientific and full of gaping holes. Nature is everywhere in flux; our yearning to return to presettlement conditions shows us up as ``self-interested primitivists infatuated with the aesthetic features of climax communities.'' Our desire to protect threatened creatures via the Endangered Species Act is an absurd ``mandate to stop evolution.'' Nature chooses no favorites, extinctions are inevitable, so why ``set aside for a Disneyesque menagerie of obscure life forms'' entire regions of the US?particularly in the Pacific Northwest, where the fight to save old-growth forests serves as the book's framework. Though diatribe is Chase's forte, he's willing to put himself on the line with some recommendations for those involved in the environmental issue: Embrace change, work in concert rather than as adversaries, remember that humans too are an element in the landscape (and their works often very pleasing), and understand that the diversity of landscapes demands differing environmental strategies to reflect not just the land but the variegated interests of a heterogeneous society. Not for everyone this bitter medicine, devoid as it is of mystery and charm, but it is fascinating reading, impeccably researched, and powerful in that Chase is clearly a friend of the Earth, not another glad-tider or apologist. (Author tour)