Land in the Sky: Forest Ecology

Oaks-of-Devil's-GulchIn the 1970s I went to the Great North Woods to study forestry. I believed that this would be my chance to dwell in deep groves and sequestered places. Soon enough I realized my mistake. Resource management is not an appropriate practice for one who delights less in the chainsaw than in the standing oak. I was not popular among my professors. One of them liked to call me “Sierra Clubber.” I forget his name.

Outside of classes I came across a book called The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. It was more delightful–and instructive–than any of my assigned textbooks. In a chapter titled “The Allegash and East Branch,” Thoreau offers the best definition of Forest Ecology to be found anywhere: “I believed that the woods were not tenantless, but choke-full of honest spirits as good as myself any day, –not an empty chamber, in which chemistry was left to work alone, but an inhabited house, –and for a few moments I enjoyed fellowship with them.” I believed that too. Still do.

I do not recall my professors at the University of Maine ever mentioning Thoreau’s name or this book. I don’t recall much of anything from those days. Ah, but that was the seventies and I was but a poor forestry student.

2 thoughts on “Land in the Sky: Forest Ecology”

  1. I graduated from the U. of Minnesota school of forestry in 1976, disgusted with the influence of politics in land use management. And I mean politics on both sides of the fence. I have no stomach for politics and never did take a job in forestry. Two readings had significant reinforcing influence on my decision – Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, (recommended by a professor) especially the closing essay, The Land Ethic and an article in Scientific American from 1978, Energy Flow Through a Forest Ecosystem. Both readings acknowledge the need for commercially forested land and both expose the helpless ignorance that accompany it. Goaded by politics, land managers would have an unsuspecting public take a forest as no different than a commercial tree farm. A forest is to a tree farm as a prairie is to a wheat field. The distinction must never be clouded.

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