Posted by: chrismaser | September 22, 2009



Philosophy, Science, and Economics


Chris Maser


FOREWORD: “The obstacles to discovery—the illusions of knowledge—are also part of our story. Only against the forgotten backdrop of the received common sense and myths of their time can we begin to sense the courage, the rashness, the heroic and imaginative thrusts of the great discoverers. They had to battle against the current ‘facts’ and dogmas of the learned.”—Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers

Amid the cascade of helpful new books and papers on the science of sustainable forest management and the art of environmental conflict management, this heartfelt call for reform by Chris Maser stands out as unique. For Maser is a discoverer charting a new course, and his thesis is compelling. Here, an experienced forest ecologist asks all the battle-weary forestry-policy combatants without exception to adopt a radical new mindset or attitude, for the sake of our forests, ourselves, and future generations.

Specifically, Maser recommends that parties to the forest-management debate: Shelve their legislative drafts and legal brief based on a view of those with other primary interests as the enemy; obe gentle with one another, “do[ing] whatever we do with love;” be gentle with nature, viewing it as a ‘Thou’ to be revered rather than an ‘it’ to be exploited; and oadopt an attitude of humility, because of our limited knowledge of ecological processes—which is definitely not your typical, hard-edged, oh-so-familiar “save the last stand” or “owls versus jobs” bugle call to battle, but something new, different, and well worth considering.

His appeal for gentler, kinder human relations—“heal the social rupture”—and for the application of good science—“biologically sustainable forestry”—is indeed timely. In my view, it’s the right prescription. Unfortunately, important but radical new ideas like this often take a long time to become accepted, and their prophets often go long without honor.

Recall, for example, President Woodrow Wilson’s July 1918 vision of a League of Nations—“the Past and Present are in deadly grapple and the peoples of the world are being done to death between them. An organization of peace must be established to make it certain that the combined power of free nations will check every invasion of right.”—and how it was spurned by the United States Senate (Herbert Hoover. 1958. The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, McGraw-Hill, NY). Similarly, Chris Maser sees forest management “Past and Present” as being “in deadly grapple,” and he calls on the combatants—the forest products industry, the environmental-protection community, and the forestry profession—to adopt a new modus operandi to take the place of their fruitless, seemingly never-ending political/legal/media relations trench warfare.

“What we need,” he says, “is a collective dream large enough to encompass and transcend all our small, individual dreams in a way that give them meaning and unity.” To transform that dream to reality he recommends the use of “sustainable forestry” to produce both wood fiber and wilderness for society in perpetuity. The iron fist within Maser’s velvet glove—the pill that will be hard for many to swallow—is his call for forestry as a profession to be “broken out of its encrustation of economic dogma” (which he says erroneously assumes all ecological variables to be economic constants) and “catapulted into ecological truth . . . if the 20th century exploitation of forests is to become the 21st century healing of forests.”

Saving the planet’s productivity and thereby improving the chances of accommodating the needs of a growing human population over time will require, he contends: (1) the recognition of the primacy of ecological principles and (2) their integration into our political decision-making process. Easier said than done, certainly, given the current primacy of economic principles, but at last the ecologists’ goal has been clarified.

It will take time for Maser’s proposal for forest-management reform to win broad recognition and support, just as Wilson’s proposal for a new forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes among sovereign nations took years to bear fruit, and for much the same reasons: the loss of total independence of action on the part of the various players and the elusiveness of compromise, exacerbated by the lack of rewards for its practitioners.

Environmental group and industry trade association board members, I know from personal experience, encourage their staff members to pick fights and win them, on Capitol Hill and in court, rarely applaud their staff members for participating in negotiated (compromise) settlements, such as those facilitated by the Keystone Center. Yet such off-the-record headknocking efforts to attempt to reach consensus on sticky environmental policy issues are important and necessary, and in my view the participants should be encouraged and rewarded, because this process can be used to break the policy gridlock and help chart paths through minefields of opposing views to reach agreements on improved forest practices and therefore a better future for all.

I for one support reform of forest practice in the direction Maser advocated, for to vote (by inaction) to continue with business-as-usual forestry clearly is a vote to steal from our grandchildren any chance of experiencing the quality of life generations now living enjoy. For the continuation of forest-management business as usual—characterized by Luna Leopold in 1990 as “stressed by a plague of special interests and a disdain for equity”—could well result in widespread forest depletion. A vote for no change in forest practice therefore represents a questionable act by any caretaker or trustee of a living trust, such as a forest, because at the current rate of exploitation we will rapidly run out of old, high-volume trees. And to liquidate the old-growth forests, upon which both our existing forest-products industries and thousands of species of plants and animals depend, is to liquidate much of our biological diversity inheritance.

“Unfavorable” questions must be asked and “unfavorable” inquiries must be pursued, Maser argues, to provide the checks and balances necessary to steer our technological culture away from catastrophic failure. More specifically, he observes, “we did not design the [original] forest; we do not have a blueprint, parts catalog, or maintenance manual with which to understand and repair it; [therefore] how can we afford to liquidate the old growth that acts as a blueprint, parts catalog, maintenance manual, and service station—our only hope of understanding the sustainability of the redesigned, plantation forest?”

We have been “mining the old-growth forests” while we have “exceedingly little understanding of young-growth forests, especially their sustainability over time,” Maser observes. Yet, “we are marching ahead as though we know what we are doing—marching from complex old-growth forests designed by Nature toward simple, uniform Christmas tree-like plantations designed by humans—jeopardizing our forests for lack of data and lack of patience with Nature’s design.” Maser’s prescribed alternative is “sustainable forestry, with the focus being on landscape management and forest health rather than on the level of forest-product harvest . . . on the requirement for an ‘ecologically sustainable forest’ in which the biological divestments, investments, and reinvestments are balanced in such a way that the forest is self-maintaining in perpetuity.”

I have heard Chris Maser roundly criticized for being impractical and impatient. Economists ask, who will pay the bills to implement his go-slow approach—the cost of finding the needed ecological facts and the cost of applying the research results on private as well as public lands? Ecologists respond, we can see the forest-management future on the current trajectory, and it doesn’t work.

What will be the cost to our descendants of our failure to make a forest-management course correction now and, instead, present them with an impoverished landscape?

Or don’t we care?

M. Rupert Cutler, 
The River Foundation, 
Roanoke, Virginia.
Assistent Secretary of Agriculture
in charge of the U.S. Forest Service
under President Jimmy Carter.


“Reading a book by Chris Maser is always an experience—a mixture of a Buddha-like quest for personal growth, a call for democratic action, and insightful doses of forest science and economics. As such, Maser is more apt to seek consensus than a litigated land ethic. He contends, for example, that ‘Our dream—a sustainable forest—must be bold enough to allow change not only in the forest but also in our thinking, because the land is not to be conquered, but rather to be nurtured.’ His concept of sustainable forestry not only recognizes humans as part of a forested ecosystem, it demands their active role as decision makers. But here, Maser seems to straddle the fence between ‘wild’ and ‘working’ landscapes. On one hand he writes, ‘We can break it [a forest] and we can disrupt its processes, but we can neither fix it nor heal it by managing it.’ Later, he notes that ‘Managing for ecosystem sustainability encompasses the following ideals: . . . restoring ecosystems, as necessary, to some former productive capacity, so they can sustainably produce socially desirable goods, services, and conditions.’ Still, the bottom line for Maser is a belief that as humans restore the forests, they will also restore themselves and, ultimately, come to value a more sustainable existence.”—Restoration & Management Notes (1995), 13(1):139.

“Foresters must regain prominence in developing the concept of sustainable forestry. This requires us to be better informed, and I recommend such books as Sustainable Forestry [: Philosophy, Science, and Economics] (Maser [1994]).”—John A. Helms; Chair, Society of American Foresters; “Forest Science and Technology Board” Journal of Forestry, March 1998.

“This beautifully written book is more descriptive than prescriptive, but gives the reader a true sense of what must be considered to maintain a sustainable forest as defined by ecosystem processes rather than extraction. Maser describes ecosystem processes, not logging techniques.”—Howard Drossman, Catamount Institute, Colorado Springs, CO.

“Another excellent work in this regard [environmental sustainability] is ‘Sustainable Forestry’ (1994) by Chris Maser—you don’t have to know anything about forestry to appreciate this book and will also learn more about the essential role of forests in maintaining a sound, functioning ecosystem.”—Tim Campbell, Community Development Society, Columbus, OH.

“. . . Maser is in his element, and the book is both informative and entertaining . . . the ‘what-ifs’ are endless, but exceedingly relevant.”—American Scientist Magazine.

Sustainable Forestry:  Philosophy, Science, and Economics. 1994. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, FL. 373 pp.

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

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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  1. Forestry is as much about people as it is the trees. All sides can learn much from this beautifully written book.

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