Environmental Ethics and Forestry: a Reader


Environmental Ethics and Forestry: a Reader. List, P., editor. 2000. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 416 pp. $29.95 (paperback). ISBN 1–56639–785–5.

Since 1990, Peter List has been part of the Sustainable Forestry Program at Oregon State University, an interdisciplinary program that seeks to bring foresters together with scholars from the social sciences and the humanities to discover useful ways of sustaining forests and human-forest communities. After a decade with the program, List decided to compile an anthology that would give “readers a sampling of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy as these new disciplines have been applied very directly to forestry and forest issues by environmental philosophers and … to acquaint readers with several important issues that have been the focus of public and academic debate about forests” (p. xv). This anthology introduces foresters and other nonphilosophers to some of the key ideas of environmental philosophy and acquaints environmental philosophers with ethical issues in the field of forestry. Though it is not a comprehensive survey of all ethical issues connected to forestry, it succeeds in its goal to “give readers a better understanding of how environmental philosophers have formulated some important ethical questions about the management of forests, the conduct of foresters, and the treatment of forest organisms and ecosystems whether by foresters or forest users” (p. xv).

List provides an introduction that connects the global environmental crises today and the rise of environmental ethics to historical and contemporary issues of forestry in America. The anthology itself is divided into three parts, each with several sections. Part 1 presents essays that describe the three main ethical systems that operate in forestry: the economic resource model of Gifford Pinchot and others, the preservation model of John Muir, and the land ethic of Aldo Leopold. Part 2 explores two philosophical issues in forestry ethics: the nature and possibility of multiple values in forests and the issue of whether nonhuman entities such as forests or trees have rights. Part 3, the most extensive portion of the text, discusses a wide range of ethical issues in forestry today, including the nature of ethical principles that underlie forestry practices, the role of ethics codes in forestry and other areas of wildlife biology, the challenge of incorporating Leopold's idea of a land ethic into the codes of ethics of the Society of American Foresters, the merits and problems of advocating new environmental ethics in public natural-resource agencies, global issues in forestry, and the case for what has become known as “new forestry” or “ecoforestry.”

List has assembled a collection of scholarly and general essays, codes, polemics, and documents that illustrate the wide range of environmental ethical issues that come up in contemporary forestry discussions, presenting all sides of the debates. Through his introductions to each part and section of essays, he provides a historical and conceptual background to the issues, making the essays and documents selected more understandable to the reader who lacks an extensive background in environmental ethics.

Two features make List's reader distinctive and of interest to both foresters and environmental philosophers. One is the discussion and readings in part 3. These represent efforts by foresters and environmental philosophers to examine the professional ethics of foresters today and to identify and critique the ethical and philosophical assumptions behind intensive forestry practices. The goal here is to provide not only the critiques, but also to present alternatives that may reform such intensive practices. Codes of ethics are examined in depth and reflect the extensive debate within the profession of forestry itself regarding what constitutes ethical behavior and practice by foresters in both private and public sectors. List shows how a biocentric understanding of the various aspects of forestry changes the focus and nature of foresters' professional obligations. List contends that, in spite of differences, these codes reflect a slow but continual change toward recognizing the biocentric obligations of professionals in these fields. Having all these writings together in one volume makes it possible for the general reader as well as professionals to understand the range of the debate.

The second distinctive feature of List's reader—the problems of advocating new ideas in public natural-resource agencies—is also in part 3. The issue of whether or not environmental advocacy is appropriate on the part of foresters working in the public domain is presented through theoretical essays, polemics, letters, and rebuttals found in various forestry-related publications. This selection of materials well illustrates the thinking of natural scientists who have decided to advocate new environmental principles and the professional consequences for them of such advocacy.

List has created a text that provides foresters with the ethical insights of environmental philosophers as they pertain to forestry issues. He also has shown that deep philosophical issues underlie many contemporary forestry debates, and those debates are more fully understood when these issues are revealed. Environmental Ethics and Forestry also shows the value of interdisciplinary activities, for in this text the dialog between foresters and environmental philosophers is developed, and the reader can become involved in this ongoing discussion. The text would lend itself to courses in environmental ethics for foresters but could also be a guide for practitioners in other natural resource fields on how to present for the student and general reader the connections between environmental philosophy and a specific area of natural resource management.