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The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem


Publisher:Owl Books



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About the book:

Tucked away into the verdant folds of the Cascade foothills east of Eugene, Oregon, there is a forest that has been forming since before Columbus first set foot in the New World. The 16,000-acre Andrews Experimental Forest is an old-growth forest, a description largely unknown to the American public until the late 1980s, when the spotted owl swooped into notoriety. In some forestry circles, other adjectives like decadent are used to describe this forest's towering Douglas firs, western red cedars, and western hemlocks--that is, a forest that has reached maximum wood fiber capacity. Loggers contend that allowing such giant trees to die, rot, and fall over is a waste of resources. "I'm clearcutting to save the forest," declared a partisan newspaper ad in the go-go timber years of the 1970s, when old growth was liquidated at an unprecedented rate to make way for managed forest crops. The only problem with this view is that it misses the forest for the trees. In The Hidden Forest, Jon Luoma takes us below--and above--the canopy to view the natural processes of an ancient forest and visit with the scientists working there.

The Andrews is unique in that it brings together scientists from diverse fields to join a collaborative effort, with the end result being an entire ecosystem under the microscope.

In the heart of summer research season, scientists can be found burrowing in the soil under logs; or trapping insects fifteen stories or more up in the tree canopy with the aid of rock-climbing gear; or scrambling crablike in a neoprene wet suit in a rushing, buffeting mountain stream....
One optimistic scientist is examining the process of rot in fallen trees, a study that will take two centuries in the case of these old-growth logs, meaning that "it will be up to the contemporaries of [his] great-great-great-great-grandchildren to complete the analysis he has begun." Others are busy identifying thousands of species new to science. To date, this research has yielded a "wellspring of key discoveries," turning the environmental and scientific communities upside-down. But meanwhile, the last remnants of unprotected Pacific old-growth forest continue to fall to the chainsaw. "It remains to be seen," writes Luoma, "how long it might take some entrenched U.S. Forest Service managers to fully embrace more ecosystem-based approaches." The Hidden Forest is testimony as to why sooner is better than later. --Langdon Cook

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