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Hidden Forest : Biography of an Ecosystem 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0805014914
ISBN-10: 0805014918
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company; 1 edition (May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805014918
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805014914
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
On the one hand, I enjoyed this book because there are some interesting insights into the science and history of forest ecology. On the other hand, there are some factual errors that cause me to worry as to the accuracy of the rest of the book.

For instance, the author states that monarch butterflies obtain their distastefulness to predators by consuming milkweed pollen, but that is not true. The caterpillars of the monarch feed upon milkweed leaves and the toxins in the leaves confer toxicity to the caterpillars (and subsequently to the butterfly). Another misstatement involved the description of the process of photosynthesis in which he claims that the end product contains one carbon, two hydrogens and one oxygen. I gave him the benefit of the doubt at first because, while it is not the correct formula, it is at least the correct ratio of glucose (C6H12O6). However, then he went on to say that the product was sucrose ("simple table sugar")! Sucrose does not have the same ratio at all; it is composed of a molecule of glucose connected to a molecule of fructose. While plants do use sucrose as a form of energy storage, it is not accurate to say that it is the direct product of photosynthesis.

In light of these problems, I have to take the other information in this book with a grain of salt, which is unfortunate because it covers a fascinating subject.
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Format: Paperback
Not only was The Hidden Forest a pleasure to read, but Jon Luoma told me so many things I didn't know. I thought I knew a great deal about forests, since I live next to a park, hike in the mountains, and have read many books about trees, but this book showed me that there really is a hidden forest right under my nose that I'd been mostly unaware of. Now, as I walk the trail through the woods, I think of the 16,000 tiny insects beneath my foot every time I take a step, and I think of the vital work they do that supports all life on Earth.

Policy decisions are being made every day--just recently the Bush administration announced plans to increase logging of old growth forests--in a political and economic climate in which most people are ignorant of the science of forest ecosystems. How can we possibly make the right choices if people are not properly informed? For example, many people have bought into the notion that protecting old growth hurts the economy and costs jobs. In fact, the losses in the salmon industry, billions of dollars, could have been prevented if old growth forests had been protected. Also, millions if not billions of dollars of damage caused by flooding in Washington and Oregon could have been avoided if the Forest Service had followed the advice of the scientists at the Andrews Experimental Forest.

Still, these scientists haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what we need to know about forest ecosystems. They haven't even identified half of the species that live in our forests. How can we know the value of what we are losing if we don't even understand what it is or how it works? Their work should be funded at a much higher level. (Check out their web site: [...
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Format: Hardcover
In the argument on whether or not to save old growth, this book draws scientific blood.

I read this book non-stop until I finished. I've never come across a work that so succintly explains the scientific research on old growth forests in the Northwest.

Want to understand why old growth is important? Read this book.
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Format: Paperback
Luoma takes the reader on an intimate, guided tour with some of the tenacious pioneers of forested ecosystems research and the mysterious processes whereby the woods become established, grow and change--in the case of the moist coastal uplands of western Oregon, processes that take centuries to complete all their steps. For those who like their science in the field, in the raw, and introduced by the human practitioners struggling (and loving) the dance of theory and experiment, this is a must-have. Ancient Forests rhetoric too frequently airbrushes over the hard scientific inquiry that helped reveal both the uniqueness of the Oregon forested ecosystems research site and yet suggests that some of these hidden processes, or ones similar, will be found to play crucial roles in other forest places as well. If Luoma doesn't beat me to it, I could do worse than spend the rest of my career writing a series for all the Long-Term Ecological Research stations that perform the valuable work of building baselines and foundations in ecology for every major ecological region. At least, this is the sort of book that makes a reader feel that way!
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Format: Paperback
There are quite a few books on forest ecology but few seem to "nail it". Jon Luoma's book does. Although I love The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, it just samples the complex processes in the West Coast's old growth forests. Other books like Trees, Truffles, and Beasts: How Forests Function are very details, in fact painfully so at times, while spending far too much time with the author's personal philosophy on just about everything. Mr. Luoma takes neither direction but instead presents the learnings from the Andrews Research Forest in Oregon.

The book covers a vast variety of subjects including the fungus in a forest (somewhere between 1,000 and 6,000 different kinds), the geology, and the role of rotting wood in forming soil (I didn't know that a "dead tree" on the forest floor has more living matter in it, with the additional fungus and insects and such, than a live tree). None of it is so deep to become tedious nor does he skirt the fact that most of what is happening we don't understand.

I loved this book and will recommend it to anyone who wants to get to know the complexity, beauty, and nuanced cycles in a Pacific Northwest forest in just one book.
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