Forest Futures. Science, Politics, and Policy for the Next Century. Arabas, K., and J. Bowersox, editors. 2004. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, Lanham, MD. 393 pp. (351 + xlii). $29.95 (paperback). ISBN 0-7425-3135-X.
Forest Futures is a good new primer for use as required reading in forest policy courses (as mandated by the Society of American Foresters accreditation committee) and especially as supplemental reading for conservation biologists who might believe their predominantly biology backgrounds will get them far in arguing for more effective forest management planning. The editors deserve compliments for succeeding in the nontrivial challenge of making a coherent, readable book out of presentations and manuscripts submitted to a September 2002 Forest Futures Conference held at Willamette University (Oregon, U.S.A.). Thankfully, contributors from the social sciences seem to have listened to and/or read the presentations by biologists, foresters, and economists. The converse is not obvious. As is all too common in conferences and edited books, participants either do not know of contributions by others or simply ignore them.
Forest Futures focuses on the now 25-year effort to avoid a fire-sale liquidation of the only storehouse of post-Pleistocene coevolved old growth in the lower 48 United States, namely the highly diverse and gigantic conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest. Ostensibly, the 25 million acre inventory of public forest lands that veneer the Cascades and coastal mountain ranges from Puget Sound south to San Francisco Bay is treated in this volume. But preponderant reference to Oregon lands and environmental planning belies the proposition. The editors succeed with up-front coverage of how the text is organized and why the various sections and chapters occur as they do. Hence, 10 years before the current Bush administration, the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team (FEMAT) was established pursuant to the Forest Summit held in Portland. A Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) that hopefully would guide forest management activities on 24 million acres of public forests was mandated. Because Jack Ward Thomas played a prominent role in U.S. Forest Service research, management planning, and administration, he presents a catbird synopsis of this short history. An objective of the book is to not only to review successes and failures of the NWFP but also to attempt a review of its impact on U.S. federal forest policy. One small subheading, “Understanding the Primacy of Politics” pretty well captures the message of this turn-of-the-twenty-first-century assessment of U.S. public forest policy. It is also probably true that stakeholders will vie with shareholders even on similar corporate forest lands from here on out.
Organized around three themes—sustainability, the role of science in forest policy formulation, and endangered species protection—the book suggests large differences in our relative strength at addressing them. To me, however, the book fails to say much that pertains to sustainability; treatment of endangered species protection is modest. The strength and relevance of this book pivots on the role of science (or lack thereof) in forest policy formulation.
Twenty authors or coauthors present 18 chapters. Thankfully the approximately 350 literature citations are amalgamated in a single section at the end. Small but useful tabulations define relevant terms, acronyms, legislation, and court cases. Less than a handful of references predate the last couple decades; something I dislike, but that readers of this journal will most likely revel in (is this the new standard?). Forestry and wildlife, especially federal, is afflicted with what Professor Richard Taber once noted to be the curse of gray literature, including myriad quasi books published at agency behest and taxpayer expense. God forbid anyone in Nairobi or Nicaragua might try to access these tomes.
Disciplinary expertise of the contributors is given at the end of the book, which is frustrating as readers attempt to associate textual facts, ideas, and concepts with expertise and affiliation of authors. Although the text is more balanced between biological and physical sciences on one hand and political science and policy on the other, at face the offerings of traditional disciplines of fish and wildlife conservation, water, recreation, and forestry are anemic.
Although only a few chapters are so good as to be remembered long (e.g., David Perry's synopsis of “Ecological Realities” and Jack Thomas' “Northwest Forest Plan,” still to be tested), the all-too-short contributions by Bob Pepperman Taylor (“Sustainability and Public Values” and “Science, Scientists, and The Policy Process”) and by the quartet of Ronald Mitchell, William C. Clark, David Cash, and Frank Alcock are original and creative. Fred Swanson, trained in geology and contributor to landscape ecology, eschews the opportunity to speak to these strengths and tackles the larger topic of “Roles of Scientists in Forestry Policy and Management.” One concludes from the frustration implicit in Thomas' epistolet and Swanson's gradated roles for scientists—(1) report, (2) report and interpret, (3) work with others to integrate, (4) advocate, and/or (5) make decisions—that the only frustration-free contribution for conservation biologists, sensu stricto, best be limited to reporting results of their research.
A quarter century has passed since Jerry Franklin invited and Jack Thomas facilitated a small project resulting in The Fragmented Forest (Harris 1984). Events now in the past were then far in the future. At that time the use of a decision-making approach and concept-oriented strategy seemed useful. Now it appears that traditionalists have reasserted the emptiness of their disciplines. Although less frustrating than dealing with professional foresters, contending with traditional wildlife biologists was then and remains a challenge unto itself. Beg as we may for innovative applications of economics, I know of none. Forest economists remain away without leave and, surely, professional foresters must be aghast at their diminishing role.
Turn of the twentieth-century wildlife conservationists found that they had to take markets and money out of killing to make headway in conservation; foresters did not (Fig. 1).
Cynics suggest that elk hunting and wilderness hiking are comparable to logging insofar as all three constitute legislated uses of our national forests. But I suspect that until water quality and quantity are sold in a free-market system (it has high per gallon value in Nevada, for example) or until only recreational logging is allowed, we will be plagued by asymmetrical values, costs, and revenues. We all wish for the day that a private sector initiative will kick in and help us “get big government off our backs.” I simply do not see it happening. Even though President Richard Nixon was outspoken in his support of free trade, and even though he did much for conservation, to this day we must live with government-subsidized sugar production in the Everglades and timber production on public-land forests.
One hopes, in a book such as this, that regional analysis might contribute both an Oregon outlook and a global vision. I don't see it. Although not bursting with new paths to a better future, many good notions are revealed. For example, why should responsible government not treat wildfire catastrophes in the same way that modern Florida builders must build against hurricane disaster or the way in which Californians must build against the certainty of future earthquakes? A stitch in time saves nine. But blessed with infinite taxpayer dollars to put “bad” fires out rather than even trivial amounts to put “good” fires in, we will no doubt continue with the status quo. Surely, if humans are wise enough to manage prescribed fire to put all manner of humanity (and toys) into space, we can harness the use of fire in our forests. Would not the use of fire and innovative economics go a long way toward conserving the evolutionary products of biodiversity and biophenomena?