The Agony of an American Wilderness

by Jason Godesky

The Agony of an American Wilderness

The Agony of an American Wilderness
By Samuel MacDonald

There are only a handful of books about the Allegheny National Forest in particular, and of them, most are books of photographs. The Agony of an American Wilderness is the only substantive book I know of on the region. Its author, Samuel MacDonald, was once the Washington, DC editor of Reason magazine. I’ve read his weblog for some time now despite my deep disagreements with him for the same reason I felt compelled to read his book: because there are so few people writing about the Allegheny National Forest.

Consistently, my disagreements have been rooted in his Libertarian orthodoxy, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Given that I can no longer support the Pennsylvania Libertarian Party because of its single-minded crusade to destroy my home, I did not expect to find much common ground with MacDonald’s book on the forest. Even the review from aBetterEarth.org, a website of the Institute for Humane Studies, admitted “it becomes clear that his sympathies lie more with improved management techniques and continued logging than with zero-cut,” but quickly added, “he is fair to show the virtues and foibles of those he questions on every side of the debate.” Of course, as I mentioned at the outset, his is the only substantive, book-length discussion of the region, and it focuses on the “timber wars” brewing there, but as Ovid wrote, “Fas est et ab hoste doceri.“—”We can learn even from our enemies.”

MacDonald begins his account with the history of the Allegheny Forest. The former old growth forest of beech and hemlock is gone, largely destroyed by the oil and gas industries that began in that same region with Drake’s Well in 1859, as well as the wood chemicals industries that felled trees not for their wood, but for their bark, and the tannin that could be extracted from them. When they were done, the massive, old growth forest was reduced to the “Allegheny Brush Heap.” Only pockets of it remain today, most notably in Heart’s Content and Tionesta. In his memoirs, Gifford Pinchot, two-term governor of Pennsylvania, personal friend of Theodore Roosevelt, and the man most responsible for the creation of the U.S. Forest Service, wrote of that destruction:

The greatest, swiftest most efficient and most appalling wave of forest destruction in human history was swelling to its climax in the United States. Nobody knew how much timberland we had left and nobody cared. We were still a nation of pioneers. The world was all before us, and there would always be plenty of everything for everybody.

To this point, I was in general agreement with MacDonald, but he then begins an examination of the scientific evidence where we parted ways even more broadly than I could have expected. MacDonald writes deeply troubling parenthetical asides, including one that seems to suggest that global warming has questionable evidence (his background at Reason with Ronald Bailey may contribute to this absurd view; see also Bailey’s recent apology). He suggests that the Allegheny Forest cannot be restored. He makes an excellent case that the black cherry that currently is the forest’s overwhelming component is a valid second-growth tree for this kind of forest. It is a shade-tolerant tree that generally grows slowly, and not very tall, in an old growth forest, but springs up relatively quickly when exposed to the sun. Thus, 80 years after the creation of the “Allegheny Brush Heap,” the first generation of black cherry is reaching maturity. In the shade of the black cherry canopy, a wider diversity of longer-lived trees, like beech and hemlock, can grow up. Hemlock and beech can both live easily for up to four centuries; growing to maturity in the shade provided by black cherry trees, when the relatively short lived black cherry dies after a mere century, the hemlock and beech should be there to take its place.

We have come to this critical point in succession, and there is no understory. Why?

One complication is the explosion of ferns that Finley mentioned. Light floods the forest floor when a dominant tree in the canopy falls over, whether it is due to wind, fire or a chainsaw. That light brings the forest floor to life. Unfortunately, modern efforts to grow trees of any species on the Allegheny have run into difficulty. The ferns blossom into a lush green carpet which is strangely beautiful to the untrained eye, but they suck up so much light, water, and nutrients—and grow so quickly—that trees saplings never stand a chance. In some areas, like the old power line near Kane, the ferns have hampered regeneration for eight decades.

Jim Finley hates ferns. But if were to make a list of threats to forest regeneration, they would register a notch or two below the creature I once heard him refer to as the “eastern mountain maggot”: the white-tailed deer. He made the reference tongue in cheek—Finley has a profound respect for the whitetail’s vital role in the Allegheny ecosystem—but it illustrates how seriously foresters view the ubiquitous animal’s impact.

Researchers estimate that the deer population on what is now the Allegheny National Forest stood at approximately 10 to 15 per square mile in pre-setlement times. That fell to almost zero by 1895, a downfall that led to substantial reintroduction efforts. The era’s massive clear-cutting provided abundant food for the new deer. The extirpation of predators such as wolves and cougars gave them free rein while hunters pressured legislators to enact laws to increase the population.

It worked. By 1938, there were approximately 42 deer per square mile on the Allegheny. The number has fluctuated since then, but recent estimates put the number close to 30 per square mile—at least twice as many deer as the pre-settlement forest contained. That helps explain why there is no understory in the second-growth forest at Chestnut Ridge, nor in the old growth in the Tionesta Natural Research and Scenic Areas: The deer ate it. (p. 66)

By MacDonald’s reckoning, this indicates that the Allegheny is “too far gone,” and can only be regenerated through “management,” including logging.

Timber supporters say that turns the familiar environmental discussion about old growth and logging upside down. The Allegheny is not the Pacific Northwest, where activists successfully argued that the last of America’s virgin forests and the animals living in them needed to be saved from industrial exploitation. Turn off the chainsaws on the Allegheny, they say, and you will end up with something that is not much better than the brush heap that the Forest Service encountered in 1923. Managing it—cutting the timber, fencing it for a while to keep the deer at bay, and spraying herbicides to kill the ferns—is the only way to make sure that there is a forest for future generations to enjoy. This is a simplified version of a complex point of view, but it serves as a base for people who think that logging in at least some form is in the best interest of the Allegheny National Forest. (p. 67)

This highlights one of the critical points I found again and again in MacDonald’s book. This is not a book for the slow-witted; many of the most important points in the book are points MacDonald did not intend to make, and are precisely opposite to the conclusions he tries to establish. They are hidden between the lines, and they take a good memory and some intellectual agility to put together. For instance, just a few pages before this, he also wrote:

The dispute over clear-cutting is, technically, a misnomer. The Forest Service manages most of the Allegheny as an “even-aged forest” through prescriptions such as shelterwood cuts. Instead of clear-cutting, loggers enter a stand and remove enough trees to put light on the forest floor. A few years later, after enough seedlings have taken hold, they go in again to remove the rest of the mature trees—minus a few that they leave for seeding and wildlife purposes. Furious activists point out that loggers are cutting down most if not all of the trees; it just takes them a bit longer to do it. In that view, “even-aged management” is just a kinder, gentler name for clear-cutting. (p. 64)

Emphasis added. So why is there no understory? What is stunting the growth of the Allegheny? Is it really, as MacDonald claims, simply “too far gone”? The role of black cherry in succession in a place like the Allegheny is to put shade on the forest floor, so that the understory can develop and eventually succeed. If loggers “remove enough trees to put light on the forest floor,” then that is not possible. When light reaches the forest floor, not only does that work against the trees that are supposed to succeed black cherry like hemlock and beech, but it also works in favor of earlier successional plants, like ferns. The significant overpopulation of whitetail deer is an enormous problem, as is beech bark disease, a problem that MacDonald does not discuss. As his own words clearly show above, deer overpopulation is another man-made problem, the result of Pennsylvania’s powerful hunting lobby, and perhaps even more crucially, the lack of an essential apex predator. Reading between the lines, it becomes obvious that the reason there is no understory is not because the forest is “too far gone,” but because of the very management MacDonald offers as a solution. Of the major reasons there is no understory today, only the one MacDonald neglects—beech bark disease—is not a direct result of how the forest is “managed.” The U.S. Forest Service may not have created a black cherry tree farm from the outset, but they have stunted the forest’s development, stopped its succession, and kept it as precisely that.

Kleissler agrees that the denuded landscape was an even-aged forest upon the Allegheny’s creation, but that is not the problem he is trying to address. He charges that the Forest Service has abandoned responsible environmental stewardship by maintaining the forest’s unstable even-aged condition through intensive management. Forest Service officials counter that even-aged management not only supplies high-value timber to local industries, but also provides the best way—and maybe the only way—to move forward in a landscape already so heavily impacted by the hand of man. (p. 64)

As the black cherry trees that began to heal the “Allegheny Brush Heap” reached maturity, international logging companies returned to the Allegheny National Forest and began to log it. The Allegheny’s black cherry is some of the most lucrative hardwood in the world, and it’s provided a good deal of money for the small towns around the forest. In the chapter “Mom and Pop Go Bust,” MacDonald covers the plight of the smaller logging companies. The strain on these small-scale businesses is undeniable, but do the locals blame the international logging operations that are directly driving them out of business? No—instead, they blame the Allegheny Defense Project (ADP) for a stream of litigation that forces them increasingly to look to private land. Donald Payne is one of MacDonald’s sympathetic characters, and he quickly glosses over the fact that he is a multi-millionnaire with a mansion in Kane. Another one flounders not due to litigation nearly so much as simple poor business decisions.

The extreme position of the Allegheny Defense Project that provokes so much ire is called “zero cut.” This does not mean an end to logging in general, but an end to logging on public lands. Logging companies complain that logging their own land is insufficient because it will not produce enough lumber. They want to preserve their own lands. They’d much rather despoil ours, the public lands that belong to all of us. Most Americans assume that a National Forest is set aside to preserve it. Mary Angeline does an excellent job of pointing out just how far that perception is from the truth.

First of all, the controversy exists because the logging/clearcutting takes place in National Forests—public lands, including designated Wilderness Areas, those which most people assumed are set aside to be protected. What is rarely acknowledged is that the Forest Service itself is the perpetrator of the giveaway of our taxpayer funded public lands, not only to logging, but mining, drilling, and grazing interests as well. Perhaps there is no other agency where the public image, in this case one of ecological stewardship, has contrasted so greatly with actual deeds.

The Forest Service was created to protect forests for lumber, not forests for forests’ sake. Their current guideline is The Multiple Use Act of 1960, which states: “the forest purposes shall be enhanced of recreation, timber, watershed, wildlife, fishing, and mining—based on the most judicious use of the land.” But the lion’s share of land usage in the last 40 years has gone to developers. Since then, millions of acres, including Native American religious sites and Wilderness Areas, have been opened to clearcutting or extraction. Watersheds and recreational areas have been damaged, and many plant and animal species severely reduced. To accomplish this, the Forest Service has built one of the earth’s most extensive road systems, with 10,000 miles of new road every year.

The Forest Service and the timber companies employ the most Orwellian of terms and tactics. Clearcutting forests, some over 1000 years old, translates into “harvesting overmature and decadent” trees. The salvage logging rider signed last year called for immediate salvage of “dead and dying trees,” and “those in danger of dying.” Most areas clearcut were of live green trees. This was done under the guise of protecting “forest health,” which is another complex topic in itself. As a bonus, this rider exempted timber companies from environmental laws, and closed the doors on public participation of timber sales.

One of the biggest myths concerns tree replanting. Yes, the Forest Service and the timber companies do replant trees—not the original species, but a single specie, even-aged corn row crop. This new forest is then “managed” as it grows. Competitive species are eliminated, and the crop sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides before it is “selectively cut” decades down the road. In Western forests conifers are preferred; in the Allegheny National Forest, the tree of choice is Black Cherry. Thus, our National Forests (and many private ones as well) are transformed from diverse ecosystems into tree farms.

While most of the country would be shocked to find out there’s logging going on in National Forests at all, the unthinkable, extremist position is precisely what most Americans assume to be the status quo. On the surface, the argument appears to be one of economics, but some studies have even suggested that zero cut would mean more, rather than less, money in the region. MacDonald quotes Michael Kruse, an anti-logging demonstrator, often, and ominously: “If we can stop logging there, we can stop it everywhere.” The only thing MacDonald cites more often is the 11 August 2003 arson of the U.S. Forest Service’s forestry sciences lab near Buckaloons. MacDonald covered the incident for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the provacatively-titled “Terror among the Trees,” and though it was a simple arson that resulted in no injuries or fatalities but merely property damage, it is the centerpiece of the narrative MacDonald projects of hard-working locals struggling against violent extremists. Once again, the truth is right between the lines. While he returns to this case of arson as “terrorism” again and again, MacDonald seems almost dismissive of the plight of one activist who, after chaining himself up to block access to a wood chipper for some two hours, was threatened by a screaming mob with shotguns and crowbars promising to kill him, and eventually faced even worse.

[Jim] Kleissler said [John] Raisler Cohn was living with him when the second threat came. A female friend who was visiting her father in Maryland reportedly got in touch to say that someone had mailed her a picture of Raisler Cohn driving his car. Kleissler said the perpetrators had drawn crosshairs over the activist’s head and scrawled, “Tell your friend to get the fuck out of our forest before he gets hurt.” How did the anonymous goons know that the girl was Raisler Cohn’s friend? How did they know she would be visiting her father? And how did they find the father’s address? Kleissler thinks those questions point to a very sophisticated surveillance and intimidation campaign.

Raisler Cohn’s hard luck reportedly continued once he got back to Oberlin. The summer 1999 issue of the ADP newsletter indicates that on May 19 of that year someone firebombed his van while it was parked behind his home. In a turn that environmentalists say yet again mirrors the mistreatment Judi Bari recieved in California, the FBI reportedly named Raisler Cohn the only suspect and grilled him accordingly. (An FBI agent at the Cleveland office refused to either confirm or deny that version of events.) (p. 85)

MacDonald presents this in a frame of Kleissler’s paranoia, and while he is dismissive of the nuances of the ELF’s arson, his parenthetical asides here gloss over a much more violent act. Arson is “terrorism,” but actual terrorism is nearly dismissed.

In truth, the question of the economics of zero-cut is a diversion; the real question that most tip-toe around, a question that MacDonald admirably takes head-on, is cultural. The primary conflict for MacDonald is between the locals and the activists—Jim Kleissler and the Allegheny Defense Project (ADP), whose litigation has significantly reduced the amount of timber harvested from the Allegheny. This is a very useful ethnography for anyone who wants to make an impact in this contentious and important battle ground. To the locals, the activists are nothing less than a threat to their way of life. One of the most colorful characters in MacDonald’s book is Doug Carlson, an important man in Forest County that MacDonald dedicates a chapter to, titled “The Anti-Activist.” The chapter begins with an epigraph, quoting Carlson’s editorial in the Forest Press on 12 September 2001, that seems to blame the ADP for 9/11:

Once one does a little digging into the areas that are selected for wilderness designation, we find that the areas have little to do with what most of us consider wilderness. Oil and gas operations, scientific studies, and recreation occur in these areas at levels unacceptable for wilderness designation. More crazies. It knows no bounds, even to the point of crashing an airplane into a building full of people who have no idea what the “cause” is really about. Pathetic and crazy, all of them.

In the book, Carlson describes a major turning point in his life, sitting on a curb watching a parade: “I realized I was sitting in America, and it was all right to wave the flag and feel good about being an American.” Even if the ADP does not, he most certainly sees the conflict in cultural—and even religious—terms.

“I started going to church,” Carlson said in a more serious tone. … “I realized that God was more Republican than he was Democrat. At least he’s conservative.”

Religion is a common theme in the rhetoric Carlson aims at activists. “The culprits are those who would have us believe that only green radical activity and green spiritual philosophy will save the planet,” he wrote in the Pennsylvania Landowners Association’s winter 2000 newsletter. “The Green Jihad has many players, including our Mr. Gore, and for the most part, the players are bent on overturning basic Christian Theology. The New Age philosophies are full of pagan ideas and ideals and embrace the approach of a sense of sacredness of the Earth.” (pp. 107-108)

This puts the conflict in stark terms, and ultimately, Carlson may be more correct than he realizes: the kind of Christianity he espouses that betrays the Bible, logic, and Jesus Christ himself is a deeply civilized way of life. Locals blame activists for trying to destroy their way of life, but of course, it is a way of life that ultimately destroys itself—but only once it has destroyed the living earth it is rooted in. It’s already run that course once before, when the locals’ ancestors destroyed the old growth forest and reduced it to the “Allegheny Brush Heap.” According to MacDonald, the forest that stands there now is one the locals rebuilt themselves, but there is scant evidence to support that narrative. Exploitation of the forest stopped only when there was nothing left to exploit. It was the federal government that declared the Allegheny a National Forest, not the locals. It’s only since the 1980’s that the locals have had a chance to prove MacDonald’s claim right, but at this critical moment, they have instead deeply aligned themselves with logging compaies based in Germany and Oregon that have come to finish the job. This is the moment in which the locals can prove MacDonald right, and lay an actual claim to helping rebuild the forest their ancestors destroyed, but so far, they are simply proving that humans will continue to repeat the same mistakes as their forebears, endlessly, so long as they are able to do so.

MacDonald repeats the claim that the locals’ claim to the forest is strongest because they “built” it—but even if that were true, how much of a claim would that make? The forest is still a fragile black cherry tree farm more than a healthy forest, and the efforts of the locals today will stunt its ability to regenerate itself. By analogy, if I were to burn down your house, and then helped you build a lean-to (though the evidence suggests the parallel might be closer if I simply let you build your own lean-to without knocking it over) and when you got as far as starting to build a new home, I burned it down every night, just how much do you think you would owe me?

MacDonald’s primary argument is perhaps best summed up in one of his blog entries on the subject:

Just try thinking about it from Pittsburgh’s perspective. Would you rather live near a pristine wilderness where you can do backwoods camping? Or would you rather live near a posh rural retreat with a lot of amenities? Is it the government’s job to provide either? What about the people who live there? Do they have a say? What if they want something you don’t want? Do their views take precedent? Why? Why not? What if they “built” the forest with their own hands? What if they saved it from extinction? Is there a balance? Who gets to strike it? What if that balance gets struck and people litigate until that balance is no longer possible? Messy stuff.

To be fair, the ADP is often hard to defend. Their insensitivity to the local culture has done far more harm than good, as MacDonald chronicles. Worse still, they often espouse Romantic nonsense that makes them an easy target. MacDonald stops just shy of praising Kirk Johnson’s Friends of Allegheny Wilderness, a group that broke off from the ADP and has abandoned zero-cut in favor of expanding the designated wilderness areas in the Allegheny National Forest, for providing the one example of reaching out to the other side evident in this conflict. Of course, to Doug Carlson, Johnson is merely pursuing a gambit to destroy him and people like him—a “good cop, bad cop” routine with Jim Kleissler to hoodwink the locals, destroy their way of life, and advance the “Green Jihad.” Moreover, Johnson’s focus on wilderness—a loaded cultural construction that has made its way into deeply flawed U.S. law—has played right into Carlson’s rhetoric, who now accuses “the crazies” of wanting to boot all humans out of the forest. He gleefully points to the many ways in which Native Americans modified the landscape before the Europeans came, and the problems in our concept of “wilderness,” and uses this to justify logging public lands. After all, what was the difference between the Seneca’s horticulture and his own ancestors who cut the old growth forest down to the “Allegheny Brush Heap”?

The solution that MacDonald briefly floats is privatization—sell off the entire forest to lumbering companies, and restore the exact same situation that destroyed the forest in the first place. MacDonald points to so-called “sustainable” logging companies, like Kane Hardwoods, one of the Collins Companies certified by the Forest Stewardship Council praised by Jared Diamond in Collapse. However, in “Interesting Economics,” published on The Oil Drum, Mike Hearn discussed the question of whether or not an economically “rational actor” would be better off logging his private land sustainably, or clear cutting it all at once. What he found is that if a society has interest, it will always pay more to clear cut, while demurrage (a “negative interest rate,” or a kind of tax on money) encourages greater investment in the future.

Usury, better known as the payment of interest, doesn’t only cause discounting of the future. It encourages competition and stresses social bonds—something it seems those who wrote ancient religious texts understood all too well.

Sustainable practices, like those espoused by Kane Hardwoods, are made economical only by the pressure exerted on the market by the very activists and environmentalists that MacDonald’s book so often dismisses. Only when the ADP and groups like it make logging so expensive does the balance tip enough to make so-called “sustainable” practices like those of Kane Hardwoods economical. Without that pressure, the pressure that MacDonald criticizes so heavily, his solution guarantees clear-cutting—just like it did the first time around.

The people who live in the Allegheny do love their forest, and feel a deep connection to it. They support logging because they see it as deeply bound to their way of life. At the most basic level, they are merely trying to do the best they can to support their families—the most basic, tribal impulse there is. International logging companies have convinced them that they have shared interests. Of course, they do not. They have come to destroy the forest that is only now beginning to regenerate.

The activists are seen as outsiders—”Flatlanders”—who’ve come to end their way of life, drive them out of their forest, and enforce their own will, forcing the Allegheny to reflect an unrealistic vision of “pristine wilderness” unspoiled by human hands. They are not entirely wrong in this perception; all too often, the ADP and the FAW have espoused unrealistic Romantic notions of “wilderness” that undercut their own position. Of course, the interventions of Native Americans can hardly be compared to the impact of loggers. They were horticulturalists—permaculturalists, if you prefer the more modern term. Our concept of “wilderness” is simply the effect of an overgrown garden left after smallpox wiped out so many of their people. The entire continent was an immense food forest, a giant garden that promoted human prosperity and biodiversity simultaneously. As Toby Hemenway writes:

Wilderness may be merely a European concept imposed on a depopulated and abandoned landscape. The indigenous people of the Americas were master terraformers, using a hard-learned understanding of ecological processes to preserve the fundamental integrity of natural systems while utterly transforming the land into a place where humans belonged and could thrive. They were truly a part of nature, and likely did not make a distinction, as environmentalists do, between land where people belong and land where we do not. I’ll certainly agree that people carrying chainsaws and riding bulldozers don’t belong everywhere. But I’m beginning to think that gardeners, with gentle tools and sensitive spirits, have been and might again be the best planetary land managers the Earth can have.

The solution to the Allegheny’s problem is right there in its past, a legacy that every group dances around and never touches. Permaculture in the Allegheny could solve every level simultaneously: it would provide locals with the things they deeply, truly need, and as they began to see their dependence on the health of the forest in a more direct way, they would also see how the logging companies, and the drilling companies, and all the rest threaten their very lives. Human prosperity and the health of the living earth are not in opposition. The Allegheny is a place deeply threatened because so many of us have forgotten that—even those who are trying to save the forest, and those who live in it and depend on it. All human prosperity is rooted in the living earth. Permaculture makes that connection immediate and real, and it’s exactly the reminder that could just possibly bridge the gulf between locals and activists, and unite the people there with the land they’re rooted in, in a relationship where one no longer prospers at the other’s expense, but both reinforce and enrich the other.


Comments

  1. You should write your own book about Allegheny to help counter his work-but getting it published reviewed and sold (read) is another thing as it wouldn’t be what the “money” wants to hear.
    How do you “permaculture” an 80 year old even aged monoculture of black cherry?
    Seedballing it?

    Comment by Scot Galego — 18 January 2007 @ 6:50 PM

  2. I intend, in time, to do precisely that. But figuring how to go about it is exactly where I’m at now. I have some ideas, and some seeds already in the ground, but it won’t be until spring at the earliest that I’ll know for sure.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 January 2007 @ 7:11 PM

  3. I’m sure you’ve already considered this, but it’d likely be a good idea when doing up seedballs for such a large area to deliberately select seeds that are at least partially wild.

    I think Fukuoka recommended 100 seeds in every ball. I don’t think he mentioned anything about including tree seeds in them though. Hmm, I might have to try and dig up his books at the library again, been a while and most of the internet info has gone dry on that subject.

    Comment by jhereg — 18 January 2007 @ 7:28 PM

  4. We’re actually not using seedballs, at least not right now. At the moment, it’s more about guilds and placement.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 January 2007 @ 7:46 PM

  5. I picked ferns (braken) once for thatching a cottage roof . You pluck them out and strip all the leaves off. The dark purple/ black root tip is the “waterproof” part and the only bit seen when it’s laid on the roof. It requires tones of the stuff! A solid weeks’ work for a good dozen people. I mean you could fill the entire volume of the cottage for starters and probably then some, and of course you need a sturdy structure to withhold it all. It’s then sewn onto an under “grill?” of close fittng poles (there’s a technical name that escapes me, it’s not rafter or truss) and the ridge is usually turfed.
    But thatching is a true art and not easy.
    The point is it uses a lot of fern and puts it to good use-the resulting roof is warm, weatherproof, breathable and looks great :-

    http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1161637228035399115CTpLSw

    Comment by Scot Galego — 19 January 2007 @ 9:06 AM

  6. Jason,

    Sam MacDonald here, author of “The Agony of an American Wilderness.? I am ecstatic to see that someone has taken the time to read it, take it seriously and respond. I think you make a lot of really nice points here and manage to take the debate to a lot of places it needs to go. In the meantime, I do have a couple of responses to specific points:

    “By MacDonald’s reckoning, this indicates that the Allegheny is “too far gone,” and can only be regenerated through “management,” including logging.?

    Actually, that’s not completely right. First, it is not my reckoning. And it is not just the reckoning of some greed-crazed timber thug. Really smart and sincere people believe this to be true—or at least partly true. (More on that in a moment.) You might disagree with Dr. Susan Stout and Dr. Jim Finley. Lots of people do. But I think they make an interesting case.

    Moreover, I don’t think anyone is saying, completely, that the forest is “too far gone,? from a biological perspective, to go back to a hemlock-beech overstory. It might some day, if beech bark disease, the hemlock wooley adelgid and other threats get out of control. But for now, take a tour with Susan Stout. The forest research station (which the ELF burned) has managed to get the understory going in a lot of places.

    So does that mean we should do it? That’s a tough call even in general. Why should the forest look like it did in 1400? And do we really know what it looked like at that time? But let’s put that aside. Let’s assume we want to make it like it was. Great. You are in charge of the forest. How do you do that?

    You spray a whole bunch of herbicide to keep the ferns down. (Ask the ADP. They don’t like that idea.) But that won’t work because there are too many deer. So you fence. Do that, and you can get some hemplock and beech in the shade.

    Now, are you suggesting that we build a huge fence around the entire forest? I doubt it. That would be a very long and expensive fence. And the people who live in, say, Sheffield, might worry about getting to their homes. Worse, there are lots of private inholdings. So just to fence off the USFS property, we are talking maybe thousands of miles of fence that would cost billions and billions of dollars. Or at least hundreds of millions. Oh, and by the way, the fencing would basically end any and all access for recreation, hiking, hunting, etc. And all the deer would starve which would drive PETA insane. And the resulting decline in deer population would have the PA hunting groups up in arms. (Did you see what happened to Gary Alt when he implemented some preliminary herd control measures? Hint: He resigned as head of the Game Commission.)

    So it is not that the forest is too far gone biologically. Although it might well be. But let’s assume it isn’t. Unfortunately for people interested in taking us back to the hemlock beech forest, the ANF is not just a biological entity. It is also a cultural, political and economic entity. Do you have a plan that would overcome the political, economic and cultural objections to your ideas? Convince me that you could generate the votes required to drum up the billion and billions and billions of dollars your plan would require. Remember now, your plan would likely require buying up the oil and gas rights under 513,000 acres. Have you seen the price of natural gas lately?

    And remember, we have not even addressed the question of whether we should even WANT to do this. We are still talking about how to do it.

    Moving on…

    “MacDonald writes deeply troubling parenthetical asides, including one that seems to suggest that global warming has questionable evidence…?

    I don’t recall writing anything abut global warming.

    “Most Americans assume that a National Forest is set aside to preserve it.?

    Do they? How do you know that? And how was the poll conducted? How were they defining “preserve?? Go ask Doug Carlson if he thinks you should “preserve? the forest. He might say yes. He just has a different idea what “preserve” means. General questions like this are usually meaningless. I suggest a different one: Go ask 1,000 people: Would it be OK, on a 513,000-acre national forest, to cut down one single tree, out of millions and millions of them, and sell that tree? I suspect that most people would say “yes.? That it would be OK to cut and sell one tree out of millions and millions of them. From this data, would it be fair for me to say that the vast majority of people are opposed to zero-cut? Because zero-cut does not mean less cutting. Or even limiting cutting to one acre or one tree. It means no commercial harvesting. Period. I certainly think I could frame a question in such a way as to generate a negative response to that idea.

    “MacDonald presents this in a frame of Kleissler’s paranoia, and while he is dismissive of the nuances of the ELF’s arson, his parenthetical asides here gloss over a much more violent act. Arson is “terrorism,” but actual terrorism is nearly dismissed.?

    I don’t know who threatened the guy. But it seems pretty clear that you are the one “dismissive of the nuances? of the ELF action. It wasn’t just an arson. It was an arson and a threat to kill anyone who rebuilt the facility. You don’t see the distinction? How is that a less violent act than threatening Cohn? As for paranoia, Kleissler suggested that a timber supporter either torched the facility, or sent the threat, or both, all in an attempt to make the ELF look bad. Great theory. Except the ELF basically said, no, it was actually one of us. So we know that a “member? of the ELF has threatened to shoot anyone involved in the timber industry and has done $700,000 in damage to prove he/she/they is serious. On the other hand, we have vague, unconfirmed threats against someone who seems to have vague, unconfirmed threats leveled against him no matter where he goes. I think that is serious, serious business, and if they find the person responsible, they ought to prosecute that person. But no one seems to be taking credit. Which seems to be the norm when people are making a political statement. The ELF took credit for their attack, for instance.

    “The solution that MacDonald briefly floats is privatization—sell off the entire forest to lumbering companies, and restore the exact same situation that destroyed the forest in the first place.?

    I don’t float privatization. Dale Anderson does.

    “Reading between the lines, it becomes obvious that the reason there is no understory is not because the forest is “too far gone,” but because of the very management MacDonald offers as a solution.?

    The management MacDonald offers as a solution? Which is? I assume you mean even-aged management. In which case you seem to misunderstand the history of the place. It was largely an even-aged forest when the USFS bought the land. That is, all the trees were cut. So let’s say that over the past eighty years the USFS did not cut a single tree or manage a single acre in any way. Know what? It would still be an even-aged forest. All the trees would be 80 years old, except where there was some windthrow or other die-offs. Much of the age variety present in the forest is actually due to the fact that there was some cutting. Stands cut 40 years ago are now 40 years old, rather than 80.

    But that’s besides the point. You seem to be arguing that if the USFS had not managed the land, there would be an understory. Really? How do you know that? I actually have a whole lot of counterexamples. I can take you to places that have not been cut since 1923 that have no understory. Lots of them. I can take you to places in the hickory Creek Wilderness area that have no understory. I can take you to places in old-growth that do not have an understory.

    These sections were all subject to deer. To ferns. To black birch. To acid rain.

    And as much as you might dislike the USFS, the USFS is not in charge of acid rain. It is not in charge of the way black birch regenerates. And it is not, contrary to public opinion, in charge of Pennsylvania’s game laws. Even as those game laws apply to federal land.

    People began noticing the lack of a proper understory as early as the late 1920s, when the Allegheny was in its infancy. How is the current forest plan, enacted in 1986, responsible for that?

    Take a look at that stand Jim Finley mentions. It was cut eight decades ago and has only managed to grow ferns. This is not Collins Pine’s fault. It is not Northeast Hardwoods fault. And it is not the fault of the USFS. It’s what the forest is.

    So you tell me: What happens if Jim Finley is righ? What happens if those black cherry fall over and nothing grows back? If it is managed land, you can at least try to do something. If it is federally designated wilderness, I am not sure what measures you can take, quite honestly.

    Let’s say we come up with a cure for beech bark disease. One that requires spraying. Could you spray the proposed wilderness areas? I never got a complete answer. On that.

    All I am asking is that people think these things through. I am glad that you are doing just that.

    Comment by Anonymous — 19 January 2007 @ 3:28 PM

  7. By the way, I agree: You oght to write a book from your own perspective. it’s hard. But doable.

    Last, I am going to be speaking about the book at Pitt Bradford sometime in February. I’ll send you a heads up of you are interested.

    Comment by Sam MacDonald — 19 January 2007 @ 3:32 PM

  8. Sam MacDonald will be a Pitt-Bradford this Thursday (Feb. 8) from 6-9. From what I have heard from the academic community, there will be a large number of people attending. You seem well informed on his book and on the subject, and we would love to see you there. Feb. 8 - 6-9 The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. The University Room in the “Commons” Building.

    Comment by Jenelle Elmquist — 7 February 2007 @ 3:48 PM

  9. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

    Comment by Jenelle Elmquist — 7 February 2007 @ 3:49 PM

  10. Jenelle, thanks for your invitation. Unfortunately for us, Bradford is simply too far to drive on a Thursday night. It would’ve taken me a half-day from work to make it up there, but I hope others saw your notice here and were able to attend.

    Sam, thank you so much for your comments here. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. What began with a pause to collect the resources to respond properly was intruded by some real-life distractions that have kept me from much of the internet in general for the past few months. Now that I’m on my way back, answering your comments here are a high priority, since you’ve taken the time to consider my critique so thoroughly.

    So does that mean we should do it? That’s a tough call even in general. Why should the forest look like it did in 1400? And do we really know what it looked like at that time?

    This was simultaneously a point I loved and hated in your book; loved, because it showed a real deficit in the debate so far, and hated, because you never seemed to get very far past it yourself. A forest like the Allegheny is a living community; beyond its aesthetics, it is the ecology on which every community around it depends. Nature doesn’t much care about what myths and stories we tell ourselves; at the end of the day, humans and our communities are every bit as part of the rest of the living world as beavers and their dams, or birds and their nests. Ecology is the foundation on which everything in human life is built. The opposition of economy vs. ecology is a silly one, because our entire economy is built on top of our ecology. Without a healthy ecology, the economy cannot prosper.

    Now, bringing this general principle back home to the Allegheny, the aesthetics of a black cherry second-growth forest vs. a beech-hemlock old growth forest are neither here nor there. Old growth forests support more and different types of life, more biodiversity, so they’re better able to withstand problems that sweep through, like beech bark disease and hemlock wooley, which tend to arise as biodiversity fails. I do not think the question should be about aesthetics at all; it should be about what makes for a healthier forest. Old growth forests are almost always healthier than second-growth; they have greater biodiversity.

    You spray a whole bunch of herbicide to keep the ferns down. (Ask the ADP. They don’t like that idea.) But that won’t work because there are too many deer. So you fence. Do that, and you can get some hemplock and beech in the shade.

    But the black cherry’s not having any trouble growing, is it? Black cherry’s role in succession is to spring up and provide shade on the forest floor–shade in which hemlock and beech can grow. But, the policy has been to cut just enough black cherry to put light on the forest floor–in other words, just enough to ensure that black cherry does not fulfill its successional role! Ferns spring up quickly in the sunlight, so the answer is not to spray for ferns, but to let the black cherry do its job. The black cherry is having no trouble growing, so if we simply would let it grow, it would block out the sunlight, which would solve the problem with the ferns.

    The deer are another problem, as you pointed out, and though the lack of ferns might help drive down the deer herd, I think the problem there lies more with overly protective hunting laws and a distinct lack of natural predators, specifically, wolves. Reintroducing wolves to the Allegheny would, naturally, be a positively explosive suggestion, and I’ve written elsewhere about the emergence of the “Eastern coyote” as an extraordinary example where nature really needs a wolf pack, it will make one. Simply relaxing the pressure we’ve placed on trying to eradicate the Eastern coyote would doubtlessly allow it to take up an ecological niche akin to that wolves once held, and I think you’d see deer numbers move very quickly back into check.

    So, the Allegheny right now is a very fragile ecology because it has so little biodiversity, but it’s requiring some extensive efforts on our part–in the form of logging and coyote hunting, in these examples–to keep it from regenerating an old growth resilience. If the goal is simply to make a “pretty” forest of beech and hemlock, then all that fern and deer and sunlight on the forest floor becomes a massive problem. If, however, we’re simply trying to help the forest fully recover from the “Brush Heap” era, then there shouldn’t be any problem letting the black cherry take its course and provide the shade needed for beech and hemlock to spring up, or for Eastern coyote to adapt into the role once played by gray wolves, and generally let the forest heal itself.

    Of course, if we wanted to be really proactive, we could even help it along, and this was perhaps what I loved most about your book, because to me, “permaculture” dripped from between the lines.

    Right now, we have the odd position where human welfare seems opposed to ecological health. This can’t be entirely true, of course, because humans are part of the ecology. When you interviewed Doug Carlson, he pointed to Native American use of the forest and suggested that it justifies any kind of human activity in the forest. Admittedly, the “untrammeled” definition of wilderness opens itself up to this line of attack, as William Cronon pointed out in “The Problem with Wilderness.” The fact of the matter is, as Charles Mann discussed in such detail in 1491, very little in the Americas really counts as “wilderness” in those terms. Natives created continent-wide gardens from sea to shining sea. But of course, there’s use, and then there’s use. When loggers go through a forest, they leave that forest diminished in their wake. Permaculture uses guilds, intercropping, and other techniques that use the natural relationships between plants, soils and animals to enhance them all simultaneously. The more verdant and diverse the forest grows, the more the human population prospers. Rather than being at odds, in this kind of relationship, human and ecological welfare are inextricably bound.

    If we look at the forest as a resource to be used up, then we are setting up a system that could never be sustainable. With interest, it will always be more profitable to clear-cut and sell it all off. We can avert that or slow it only by putting our thumb on the scale with regulations or activist pressure. Even Kane Hardwoods is only able to operate because environmentally-aware people are willing to pay more for sustainably-harvested wood. So long as it remains “merely” a matter of conscience, though, it’s all too easy to forego when things are tight. Social fads come and go, and when the pressure if off, the ANF will be reduced to a brush heap once again, and the communities living there will be left with nothing again.

    On the other hand, if we can abandon the environmentalists’ myth that humans are somehow something to be seperated from the forest, and started integrating human communities with their ecological basis with permacultural gardens that bind human and ecological welfare together, the way the Natives in question did when they maintained this forest ever since the glaciers receded, then you will have a sustainable foundation of human prosperity.

    To achieve that, there’s misconceptions to dismantle on all sides: the dearly-held environmentalist mythology of “the wilderness,” the assumption that logging is the only or best way to make a living off of the forest, the notion that economy and ecology are somehow opposed….

    It’s a lot, to be sure, but we’re talking about our communities and our homes. Is there anything more worthwhile?

    Convince me that you could generate the votes required to drum up the billion and billions and billions of dollars your plan would require. Remember now, your plan would likely require buying up the oil and gas rights under 513,000 acres. Have you seen the price of natural gas lately?

    Ah, now, that is the quick of it, isn’t it? Few things worth doing are easy, and while permaculture offers a lot both to the people and to their ecology, there’s lots of deep-pocketed interests that would have to stop their predations. Most understandable would be the hunting lobby that simply wants to protect its deer and coyote hunts. As you point out, that’s a big interest here, and of the lobbies to overcome, the only one that’s genuinely grassroots. Many of them would be the locals themselves. That very grassroots nature would open up the possibility that they might see that their recreation is getting in the way of the health and well-being of their neighbors, or even their own families. The logging, oil and natural gas companies are other things entirely; they’ve convinced the locals that they’re “on their side,” even though they’ll be gone in a snap as soon as the forest is consumed again.

    I don’t foresee any massive policy shift, and that’s not what I’m really campaigning for. Change begins locally, with ways that improve your own life and enrich the world around you at the same time, and they spread by example. We’ve begun experimenting with permaculture on the border of the ANF, near Marienville. It’s almost time to go up and see how our first attempt turned out, actually. Once local communities have seen what permaculture can do, once they’ve married their own prosperity to the ecological health of the forest, there will be an entirely different dynamic. When locals see logging, oil and natural gas companies as coming to take away the foundation of their way of life, things will change in the ANF quite a bit.

    I don’t recall writing anything abut global warming.

    As I mentioned, it was a parenthetical aside, found in the last paragraph of chapter 4 (p. 59 in my version), where you seem to suggest that what follows is questionable science by saying, “Unfortunately for observers searching for a clear-cut ‘answer’ to the crisis, science is never quite as definitive as it is cracked up to be. That was true with the spotted owl … and other well-publicized imbroglios (Global warming? Fuel efficiency standards? And so on.)”

    Of course, science is quite clear cut on the question of global warming, and given your involvement with Reason magazine, which gave a regular soap-box to Ronald Bailey’s regular dose of obfuscation on the issue, it is a somewhat alarming, if puzzling, aside. I fully admit I don’t know quite what you meant by it, so I can only call it “troubling” without some further clarification.

    Do they? How do you know that? And how was the poll conducted?

    Nothing as scientific as that, it’s merely a statement of my own experience. Whenever the subject has been raised, once I explain what “zero cut” means, the person I’m conversing with is invariably confused–they assumed that was what the national forest was for to begin with. There seems to be some widespread confusion about how national forests differ from national parks, and many seem to think they’re interchangeable. This is more clearly understood, naturally, by locals personally involved in the local logging industry.

    But it seems pretty clear that you are the one “dismissive of the nuances? of the ELF action. It wasn’t just an arson. It was an arson and a threat to kill anyone who rebuilt the facility. You don’t see the distinction?

    I’ve been very critical of ELF on this website in general, but I think you’re overstating things slightly. They wrote, “While innocent life will never be harmed in any action we undertake, where it is necessary, we will no longer hesitate to pick up the gun to implement justice.” This is a general terrorist threat, no doubt, but it’s not as specific as threatening to shoot anyone who rebuilds the station. It’s so general it’s almost a platitude. It was a case of arson, associated with a terrorist threat, and there are punishments our society extracts for that.

    On the other hand, Cohn recieved a very specific death threat–his van was destroyed, and photographs of him were mailed to his girlfriend while she was away, telling her to “Tell your friend to get the fuck out of our forest before he gets hurt.” That seems much more specific than ELF’s threat, and by my consideration, should be considered at least as bad. Yet while the ELF arson recieves significant attention in your book, you seem to suggest that Cohn’s ordeal may not have even happened. Kleissler may well be paranoid in general; on the other hand, perhaps he has good reason to be.

    I don’t float privatization. Dale Anderson does.

    That’s a fairly arbitrary distinction, as I’m sure you know. You’re the journalist–you can decide which proposals get coverage and which don’t. Your choice to give Anderson’s idea so much coverage is you floating it.

    I assume you mean even-aged management. In which case you seem to misunderstand the history of the place. It was largely an even-aged forest when the USFS bought the land. That is, all the trees were cut. So let’s say that over the past eighty years the USFS did not cut a single tree or manage a single acre in any way. Know what? It would still be an even-aged forest.

    I’m aware of that, and even made mention of it in the article. The effect of management on the ANF was not to create an even-aged forest, but to make sure that it remains one. Even without logging, variations arise. In fact, even with even-aged management, some of the greatest variations in the forest are due to natural occurences–like the tornado in 1985.

    You seem to be arguing that if the USFS had not managed the land, there would be an understory. Really? How do you know that?

    Basic ecology, really. This is how succession works, and why there is a forest there today.

    I actually have a whole lot of counterexamples. I can take you to places that have not been cut since 1923 that have no understory.

    That’s to be expected; these stands are fairly small and isolated. A forest can’t thrive in parcels–just like populations that drop too small, without sufficient area to have an ecological effect, there’s little an isolated area can do when it’s surrounded by ferns and deer.

    These sections were all subject to deer. To ferns. To black birch. To acid rain.

    My point precisely. These things stopped the understory from developing. The role of black cherry in succession is to put shade on the forest floor, which inhibits the growth of ferns and black birch, which are both shade-intolerant. If we were not cutting black cherry back so that light reached the forest floor, that is if we allowed black cherry to fulfill its successional role, then these problems would decline, and an understory would have a chance.

    And as much as you might dislike the USFS, the USFS is not in charge of acid rain. It is not in charge of the way black birch regenerates. And it is not, contrary to public opinion, in charge of Pennsylvania’s game laws. Even as those game laws apply to federal land.

    No, I don’t lay all the blame at the USFS’s feet. The Game Commission, and even state gaming laws, also need to be addressed. Our whole relationship to our ecology is disastrous. But the USFS is responsible for the logging policy, and that makes them responsible for nullifying black cherry’s successional role, and that makes them responsible for “freezing” the forest in its current state, and not allowing it to continue healing.

    How is the current forest plan, enacted in 1986, responsible for that?

    By continuing the same policies that were already having an impact in the 1920s. This is a much bigger problem than just the most recent forest plan, or even the USFS, no one’s denying that at all. I don’t blame the USFS for the situation it inherited; I blame them for what they’ve done (intentionally or otherwise) to arrest succession.

    Take a look at that stand Jim Finley mentions. It was cut eight decades ago and has only managed to grow ferns. This is not Collins Pine’s fault. It is not Northeast Hardwoods fault. And it is not the fault of the USFS. It’s what the forest is.

    It is the fault of USFS, whether it was their intention or not. By allowing loggers to clear enough black cherry to let sunlight on the forest floor, they absolutely eliminate black cherry’s role in succession. Left alone, black cherry blocks the sunlight, so that shade-intolerant species like ferns and black birch can’t grow. When sunlight reaches the ground, all you’ll grow is ferns. They choke out everything else. From the forest’s point of view, that’s what black cherry is for.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 11 April 2007 @ 9:38 PM

  11. Jason,

    Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful response. I can’t address all the issues right away, but a few stand out to me immediately.

    “Old growth forests support more and different types of life, more biodiversity, so they’re better able to withstand problems that sweep through, like beech bark disease and hemlock wooley, which tend to arise as biodiversity fails.”

    They might support more life. (There is some debate about that.) But even if they do, the question still becomes which “life” we privilege. In 1999 we had a moratorium on logging in the forest. In the interests of what kind of life? A single Indiana bat. What lives were impacted negatively? The lives of loggers and their families. Was that a good trade? Maybe, maybe not. It’s an extreme example, but the debate is an important one. Which do we prefer? The lives of thousands of deer and the hunters who hunt them? The hemlock trees those deer eat? The bats that live in the hemlock trees? The grouse that prefer early successional growth? It is too simple to make this an issue of life versus non-life, or diversity versus non-diversity.

    “Old growth forests are almost always healthier than second-growth.”

    Almost always? When not? Have you ever gone to the Tionesta Scenic and Natural Areas? Heart’s Content? Old growth. Not healthy. So perhaps what “almost always” is the case is less important than what “is.”

    “Old growth forests support more and different types of life, more biodiversity, so they’re better able to withstand problems that sweep through, like beech bark disease and hemlock wooley,.”

    Ever go to Hickory Creek Wilderness Area? Heart’s Content? Have you seen the beech bark disease there? It’s ravaging the place. What you are talking about might be true in theory, but do a little “ground truthing,” a favorite ADP term. The old-growth is NOT resisting these forces.

    Now, I suppose you can say, “So that’s why they shouldn’t have clear cut it in the 1880s.” But they did. They just did. We can’t undo it. We have to deal with the forest that is there. And the old-growth in the forest that is there is not doing the things “forestry theory” says it should in a perfect world. Because it is not a perfect world.

    “Black cherry’s role in succession is to spring up and provide shade on the forest floor–shade in which hemlock and beech can grow. But, the policy has been to cut just enough black cherry to put light on the forest floor–in other words, just enough to ensure that black cherry does not fulfill its successional role! Ferns spring up quickly in the sunlight, so the answer is not to spray for ferns, but to let the black cherry do its job. The black cherry is having no trouble growing, so if we simply would let it grow, it would block out the sunlight, which would solve the problem with the ferns.”

    No it wouldn’t. How do I know that? Because it isn’t. That is, you are talking theory again. You are talking about the way things “should” or “did” work. They simply don’t work that way anymore. The succession is not working. And not just because of continued cutting. If you let the cherry grow, the hemlock is supposed to grow up underneath it. So when the cherry falls over, the hemlock is shading the ground. Which blocks the ferns.

    BUT THERE IS NO HEMLOCK. There just isn’t. The understory is not there. So when the cherry dies, due to age or windthrow or whatever, there is nothing shading the ground. So you get ferns. It has happened over and over and over. So there is this myth that if we just let it go the forest would go back to normal. Maybe. But you need to explain how that would happen given the reality of the situation. Sue Stout and Jim Finley and all the rest have done study after study after study. The regeneration that you say will happen DOES NOT HAPPEN. Are they lying? That’s one response. But if you reject that, you need to address their conclusions.

    “Simply relaxing the pressure we’ve placed on trying to eradicate the Eastern coyote would doubtlessly allow it to take up an ecological niche akin to that wolves once held, and I think you’d see deer numbers move very quickly back into check.”

    I refer you to Gary Alt. What happened to him when he suggested reducing the deer herd? Maybe that sucks. But when you create a federal forest, you create a political forest. Take the good with the bad. Those political forces are just as real as a tornado or a drought. We can complain about them and act like we are above it. But that does not a wolf pack make. Sure, maybe someone has a solution that says we should all live in yurts and eliminate the internal combustion engine. Great. I might even like that idea. It’s great fodder for a treatise on culture. But is sucks as a forest plan. Because it isn’t going to happen. Neither is buying up all the oil and gas rights. At least for now. So sure, feel free to talk big-picture. But that’s a different discussion entirely.

    “Even Kane Hardwoods is only able to operate because environmentally-aware people are willing to pay more for sustainably-harvested wood.”

    Maybe things have changed, but for the most part I understand that certification has been a financial loser for companies. People really aren’t willing to pay more. At least most people. Go to a Home Depot once. It’s good in theory, but so far it seems like the jury is still out.

    “That’s a fairly arbitrary distinction, as I’m sure you know. You’re the journalist–you can decide which proposals get coverage and which don’t.”

    So then did I also “float the idea” of zero cut? I discussed it. Gave Jim a soap box. So can we at least consider it fair and balanced? Would it have been better to ignore Dale’s ideas for the forest? He has been working on that forest longer than either of us has been alive. I thought he deserved a hearing. Are there any other views I should have ignored?

    “Basic ecology, really. This is how succession works, and why there is a forest there today.”

    Here is the basic problem. It’s NOT basic ecology. It is not responding the way basic ecology says it should. Maybe we should blame the railroad logging tycoons from the 1880s. Maybe we should blame the coal-fired electricity plants in Ohio that create the acid rain. Maybe we should blame the deer hunters. But when we are done assigning that blame, it is going to be time to address the fact that the succession you are talking about ISN’T HAPPENING. On large tract, on small tracts, in old-growth, in second-growth, in third-growth, in clear-cuts, in shelterwood cuts, along powerlines, etc.

    It is not happening. I don’t know how to say it other than that. You say it should happen and it will. Call Sue Stout and ask her for a tour. She’ll show you how and why you are wrong.

    “If we were not cutting black cherry back so that light reached the forest floor, that is if we allowed black cherry to fulfill its successional role, then these problems would decline.”

    Again, all I can suggest is that you call Sue Stout and ask her. Or Jim Finley. Seriously. Ask Finley what will happen if we just let the cherry grow until it dies. He will say, because he’s usually diplomatic, “I don’t know.”

    Press him on it, and he’ll start talking about ferns. And he is incredibly worried about it. Again, if he isn’t lying, then we have a real problem.

    By and large, you are correct about “basic ecology.” The textbook version of succession that you are talking about would be very useful on a distant island unihabited by industrial man and unaffected by history. But that’s not what the Allegheny is. And the succession is not working the way it should.

    You seem to think that if we just leave it alone, it will, in fact, start doing that again. You can say that. And who knows. You might be right. But a lot of people think you are wrong. And that your preferred policy would not lead to a simple collapse of the local black-cherry industry, but a complete and utter ecological collapse that would make the clear-cutting era of the late 1800s look like nothing.

    That’s not to say that you shouldn’t hold strong and fight for your beliefs. But I do think you need to address the fact that, so far, what you say will happen is not happening.

    Comment by Sam MacDonald — 13 April 2007 @ 11:30 AM

  12. Welcome back, Sam; I’m glad you had a chance to read my utterly belated reply, and chose to respond. However, I think you’re responding more to the ADP than to what I’m arguing.

    Of course, it’s hardly any surprise that the understory isn’t regenerating. Roads criss-cross the forest, the deer herd is positively massive, and the areas where black cherry isn’t cut back to let sunlight to the forest floor are small and isolated. What else could you possibly expect under such conditions? Generating an understory requires large, unbroken areas of shade, which we have simply not allowed. Even in the small, isolated areas where there is some old growth forest providing some amount of continuous shading, these areas are so small that the ratio of their area to their perimeter is simply too severe. Ferns growing along that perimeter don’t have much area they need to overwhelm, and that means you don’t get an understory. This is why forests really only take shape as large areas, and why the ecology of a grove is distinctly different from that of a forest. What we’ve left is far too small to allow the normal ecological processes of a forest to take place.

    Of course, even if we closed most of the roads in the forest and scaled back nearly all of the logging, there would still be the deer herd. Have you heard about the effect re-introducing wolves had at Yellowstone?

    …wolf predation has been significant enough to redistribute the elk. … They do not spend time in places where they do not feel secure — near a rise or a bluff, places that could conceal wolves. In those places willow thickets, and cottonwoods have bounced back. Aspen stands are also being rejuvenated. … Where willows and cottonwoods have returned, they stabilize the banks of streams and provide shade, which lowers the water temperature and makes the habitat better for trout, resulting in more and bigger fish. Songbirds like the yellow warbler and Lincoln sparrow have increased where new vegetation stands are thriving. … The number of coyotes, on the other hand, has fallen by half. Numbers of their prey — voles, mice and other rodents — have grown. And that, in turn bolsters the populations of red foxes and the raptors.1

    Of course, the wolves of the Allegheny were driven off long ago. But more recently, the “Eastern coyote“—showing some signs of being a hybrid of western coyote and gray wolves—has moved into the area. They’re larger than coyotes, and look more like wolves. They hunt in packs, like wolves. Here we have an ecology very much in need of some kind of wolf, and in the absence of wolves, coyotes become more wolf-like to fill the niche. Of course, Pennsylvania has some incredibly lax coyote hunting laws generally aimed at wiping them out entirely. Just relaxing our campaign to exterminate them would give them the chance to rebound, and begin filling their ecological role.

    That’s probably the most important lesson ecology has to teach. It’s far too myopic to look at just a small stand of trees, or even whether or not a single species is prospering. We’re talking about a whole living commuity in a forest, and what matters is the health of that entire community. Homo sapiens is part of that community, too, so what we do to harm the health of the forest, we do to our own detriment, as well. We kill the very thing that gives us life.

    That, of course, is a much bigger problem, the problem that occupies most of this site: the suicidal nature of our way of life, in that it puts us at odds with the very means of our own survival. This is not the only way to live, of course. It’s incredibly new in our species’ history. Throughout time, and until very recently around the world, most human societies existed in ways that provided prosperity both for them, and for the ecology they lived off of. How could it be any different, after all? What kind of prosperity destroys its own foundation? This is what Doug Carlson seems to be completely neglecting in his use of the Seneca example. The Seneca burned off pieces of forest because after they were done, there was more life, and greater diversity of life, which in turn helped make for more prosperous Seneca. It improved the health of the forest. That’s not what logging is doing, and that’s certainly not the attitude that loggers take. I’d love to see if Carlson would ever make his way up to the Faithkeepers School, just over the state line in the Allegany Seneca reservation in New York; I’d love to hear their reaction to his contention that modern logging is just continuing the Seneca tradition.

    Adn there’s the biggest divergence between me and the ADP. I don’t believe in this notion that humans are somehow separated from the rest of the world. I don’t buy this idea of “untrammeled” wilderness. By that definition, wilderness simply does not exist—anywhere. The Amazon and the Great Plains were created by Native Americans, too. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, it’s equally important to remember the role other species play—like what the re-introduction of wolves meant to Yellowstone. Every ecology is a negotiation and re-negotiation between all the species living in it. The Allegheny National Forest was created by Native Americans, and wolves, and hemlock, and beech. Today, that forest is gone, probably forever. Now we have a new population of Homo sapiens, Eastern coyote, deer, ferns and black cherry. It has yet to really find a proper balance—it’s being renegotiated. A lot is unclear, but there are two points I think we can rely on: this isn’t going to be the same forest it once was, and the status quo isn’t going to leave much of a forest at all.

    I don’t have any big policy plans. I’m an anarchist; by my estimation, there’s precious few things the government touches that it doesn’t screw up. I’d like to see the campaign to wipe out the Eastern coyote stopped, and it would be great if the Forest Service stopped putting so much effort into keeping the forest from regenerating itself, but all in all, these are things you need the people to understand for themselves. Come in like the ADP and try to preach to them about the pristine quality of nature, and, well, you see the results.

    I think you’re spot on with this point in your book, that these people live in and near the forest, and it’s not a matter of aesthetics for them. It’s a matter of survival. That’s an important point, and just like the old forest needed Homo sapiens, I think the new one does, too. But that’s a very different thing from saying that it needs logging.

    Are you familiar with permaculture? The Seneca that Carlson uses to justify logging managed the Allegheny as an edible forest garden. Greater diversity of life in the forest meant more food for them, which meant greater prosperity for them. Human concerns weren’t at odds with the concerns of all the other forms of life in the forest; rather, what benefitted one, ultimately benefitted all.

    We’re not just preaching this, either. Permaculture started in Australia, and there’s been a lot of work in the northwest, but the Seneca were the last ones to do this in the Allegheny, and that was a very different forest then. We’re working out a new permaculture design adapted to the Allegheny, and once we know how it works, I want to use it to help ease the burden of local communities in and around the forest, communities I’ve known and cared about most of my life. Might just be shaving a little off the top of every month’s grocery bill at first, but in time, I think you might even get to the point of most people providing most of their food from permaculture gardens.

    If we can get even close to that, I think you can watch the situation change dramatically. Suddenly, the status quo isn’t providing a livlihood, it’s threatening the basis of a whole new kind of prosperity. The logging companies that come from Germany or Washington aren’t here to help the locals anymore, now their outsiders come to take away the forest that feeds them and their children. At that point, when they’re not just hearing stories but personally reaping the bounty of a healthy ecology, I think you’ll see the opposition just fade away.

    My mother always told me that you never kick out a man’s crutch unless you’re prepared to stand by him and help him learn how to walk again. The forest has been a human environment since the glaciers receded and it originally formed, and it will remain a human environment into the future—if it remains a viable ecology at all. The important part is that there’s use, and then there’s use. We need to start making up for the damage we’ve already done, and the first step is a reconciliation of the systemic problems of our way of life, and how it puts us at war with the very ecologies that sustain us. That’s not a war we can win; it’s suicidal. Fortunately, it’s also not the only way to live. The people I’ve met who live in and near the forest are eminently practical, a trait they share with the various cultures around the world and throughout time who’ve made their living by giving back more than they take and enriching the ecologies that give them their wealth—so my gut reaction is, once we’ve really figured out the details, that pragmatism will help this catch on pretty darn fast.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 April 2007 @ 2:43 PM

  13. Jason,

    How are you doing on the book?

    Comment by Rj — 23 February 2008 @ 6:47 PM

  14. Oh, I haven’t even begun work on that book. First comes the “book version of the Thirty Theses,” though I doubt the title or format will survive. I’ve gotten back into a research phase at present.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 2 March 2008 @ 4:23 PM

  15. There are a lot of initiatives to begin sustainable living. The FSC certification, for example, where lumber companies submit to outside verification of sustainable practices in forest management. There is a great FSC-compliant lumber company here, for example.

    Comment by Cory — 5 April 2009 @ 5:14 PM

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