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
From Publishers Weekly
The tallest species of spruce, hemlock, fir, cedar and pine trees on Earth coexist in the old growth of the Andrews Forest, in central Oregon, where decades of research by a cluster of scientists has raised the question, as Luoma puts it: "How does an entire ecosystem work?" Following some of those scientists through their woods, Luoma has created both a guide to the Andrews Forest and a book about why and how ecologists and foresters came to know the importance of old growth. In 1970, the Forest Service wanted to clear "inefficient" ancient forests, and even to scrap rotting logsAbut ancient trees, experts were even then discovering, host irreplaceable flora and fauna, and rotten floating logs are key to healthy streams. Luoma shows how the Andrews team discovered the gaps, perils and horrors of the old pro-logging "scientific forestry," and what the new students of forests know instead. Hurt by the 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helen's, the Andrews area provoked political blowups later on, when it turned out to shelter the endangered spotted owl. And beyond the owls' fame lurk thousands of species whose importance to forest life is still being explored. Everything on or in the Andrews soil, for example, depends on the detritus-grinding work done by the jaws of one type of millipede. Like John McPhee, Luoma writes a clear reportorial prose, affable and supple enough to accommodate his range of facts, quotes and ideas. And, like McPhee, he explains natural science's recent discoveries by telling the stories of the discoverers. The result is an engaging yet serious outline of what we know about forestsAand what experts are still finding out. Agent, the Young Agency.
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