Posted by: chrismaser | September 22, 2009



The Ecology of Wood in Streams, Rivers, Estuaries, and Oceans


Chris Maser and James R. Sedell.


FOREWORD: The forest and the sea have always been connected in human mind and myth, as well as ecologically. For most of our history, we have gone “down to the sea in ships” made from trees, emulating driftwood, which was probably the original model for the whole process. In any event, the knitting together of sea and land by rivers, logs, fish, soil, and tides is basic to the ecology of all coastal margins where forests occur. Because most great rivers rise in forested places and run to the sea, the connection is fundamental and well-nigh universal and extends far inland and upland from the coast.

How interesting, then, and how devastating a commentary on the current state of our disciplinarily fragmented science, that the people who study forests and the people who study salt water rarely interact. How peculiar that is has been only in the last two decades that we realized that much of the “sediment” in the coastal rivers that found its way to estuaries and coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, the setting for this marvelously inquisitive book, was solid wood.

Wood is the forest’s gift to the sea; water is the sea’s gift to the forest.


The authors offer a combined historical and ecological perspective rare in “nature” books. As they recount, their puzzlement at the great decline in the amount of wood on the beaches of the Pacific Northwest during their lifetime made them curious, and this put them on a trail that led them back to earliest European settlement and into contemporary oceanography laboratories. The book is idiosyncratic in the good sense of the word; that is, it is obviously the product of the authors and no one else, which you will quickly realize if you have the pleasure of knowing them.

This is a book everyone should read. It describes a connection that is both vital to ecological and commercial health and one which we have chosen, as least recently, to know little about. The connection between logs, rivers, and ocean life is both easier to see and easier to understand, once explained, than the esoterica of ants in the Amazon or “biogeochemical cycles.” It illustrates deftly that it is the connections that count. We ignore them at our peril. The odds are that you won’t again ignore this one if you read on.

John C. Gordon, Pinchot Professor of Forestry
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


“This is a very readable book in which the ecological concepts are carefully explained and the glossary of key terms will be a welcome inclusion for those getting to grips with ecology. The book will therefore appeal to a wide readership of aquatic ecologists and foresters, both professional and amateur alike.”—Scottish Forestry Royal Scottish Forestry Society

“. . .the book makes a very significant contribution to our growing awareness of the ecological importance of driftwood. This contribution is founded on two particular aspects of the book: the writing style, which is clear and directed very much at a general reader; and the scope of the book, which is very broad and, to my knowledge, goes far beyond other reviews of the topic.”—Angela Gurnell School of Geography,
 University of Birmingham 
British Journal of Forestry

“This is not a review article containing a current review of all works on wood in aquatic ecosystems. Instead, it is a comprehensive treatment of the general role of wood.”—J.L. Tank and J. R. Webster Journal of the North American Benthological Society

Photos © by Chris Maser, 2009. All rights reserved.

From the Forest to the Sea: The Ecology of Wood in Streams, Rivers, Estuaries, and Oceans. 1994. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, FL. 200 pp.

If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.


Driftwood in an estuary on its way to the sea

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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