CORVALLIS, Ore. – Philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore looks at an old growth forest and sees a sanctuary, a place that has spiritual value. Timber company chairman Howard Sohn sees the value in old growth for its ecological characteristics, and wants to remove the guilt associated with forest management.
“Old Growth in a New World: A Pacific Northwest Icon Reexamined” is a new collection of essays just released by Island Press. The collection, edited by Thomas Spies and Sally Duncan, brings together perspectives on Northwest old growth forests from a variety of sources, from ecologists and sociologists to forest industry leaders and economists.
Spies is a research ecologist at the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis and has a courtesy appointment at Oregon State University. Duncan is policy research manager with the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU.
Spies said the origins for the book came from a 2005 conference where social, ecological scientists and policy makers were invited to have a conversation about the future of old growth forests – how we should view them, what kind of management should take place.
“The early debates about old growth were extremely polarized,” Spies said. “Once that fervor died down a bit, it was a good time to step back and see what we learned from that experience.”
Spies and Duncan wanted the book to represent a broad spectrum of views intrinsic to the old growth forest debate: perspectives from ecologists, economists, conservationists, social scientists and industry all were included.
Duncan said part of what resulted over the old growth issues in the 1990s was what she calls an “inflexible” view of old growth that rendered it as an icon, rather than as a living, changing ecosystem.
“Most natural resource issues are multi-faceted and do not have easy resolution, single answers, clear definitions or a manageable time frame,” she said, pointing to the fact that a definition of what constitutes the term “old growth” has never really been decided.
As climate change continues to change forest ecosystems, Spies said a constant reexamining of the issues confronting our forests will be needed.
“This isn’t a cookbook with recipes for solutions to the problems of old growth forests, but rather a guide to old growth that may lead toward a richer understanding of the issues and ultimately more effective policies and practices for our forests,” Spies said. “This has been a major issue in the Northwest for a long time, and it will continue to be.”
Some of the contributors to “Old Growth in a New World” include:
• Andy Kerr, senior counselor to Oregon Wild and a conservationist who lives in Ashland, writes on the early efforts of environmentalists to team up with scientists on forest policy initiatives;
• Denise Lach, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at OSU, on the “wicked problems” of old-growth forest management and clumsy solutions to “solving” such a complex system;
• Ross Mickey, manager with American Forest Resource Council in Portland and advocate for forest products industry, writes about the many different definitions of the term “old growth” and the need to actively manage and plant new forests;
• Kathleen Dean Moore, distinguished professor of philosophy at OSU and founding director of Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word, reflects on the value of an old growth forest for itself, rather than its value as a human commodity;
• Robert G. Lee, retired professor of sociology of natural resources from University of Washington, analyzes the question of what kind of spiritual values a forest holds, and ponders a new approach to nature that would be built on a new sense of science and religion;
• Gordon Reeves and Peter Bisson, research fisheries biologists with the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, write on the need for a management strategy that allows forests in other watersheds to attain old-growth stand properties as existing old growth stands are lost to natural disturbances;
• Hal Salwasser, dean of the College of Forestry at OSU, on the need for a broad perspective on old growth forests variability and the need to place these forests in the context of how human existence inevitably changes these ecosystems and permanently alters the landscape.