Posted by: chrismaser | September 24, 2009



Today’s Decisions, Tomorrow’s Consequences.


Chris Maser

FOREWORD: The opening quote by Scott Nearing about the peculiar and deeply satisfying journey of the off-beat thinker told me this would be a passionate read. So it is. Chris Maser’s “Our Forest Legacy” throbs with the heartbeat of one who has not lost that child-like fascination with the natural world. And this naiveté, coupled with wisdom, simply asks us to change—in hope for the future, born of anguish about the past.

This book is compelling, as well as deeply disturbing.

It made me think, hard. Chris confronted me with things I had never even been aware of, much less grappled with. For example, I fell into the trap of thinking that “forest industry” meant logging and wood processing, while ignoring all the other forest-dependent industries, such as recreation, outfitting, fishing, farming, municipal water, and so on. They clearly have as much at stake as logging and wood processing, or perhaps even more, in the determination of whether forest policies equate to sustainable forestry. This said, his book made me more aware of how deeply we are a part of forests, and how much we are diminished by our loss of native forests due to our greed. We need forests. And Chris speaks of how we can sustain them that they might sustain us. Yet I am disturbed. Although I’m an optimist, Chris brings me very close to utter despair. I wonder whether we have the capacity to change as dramatically as will be necessary? Have forests been so fundamentally altered, in spite of their resilience, as to be beyond restoration? I am buoyed by the knowledge that most great change has been fostered by a dedicated individual or small group. Might this book be another “Silent Spring?”

I see things through the lens of a life spent in forestry; 34 years with the U.S. Forest Service. I felt a pull on my life in my early teens. Chris had water-filled ditches behind his house; I had summers with my Dad in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Dad looked at fossils. I explored and was awestruck. So, I understand, Chris, why forestry is more than a job. Being a zealot is not a bad thing when you sense the world slipping away. Make no mistake, Chris Maser bears a torch. And we need torchbearers, for the human heart grows cold slowly and needs a fire to rekindle passion.

Gifford Pinchot dreamed of an organization—the U.S. Forest Service—being moved enough by the idealism of conservation that it would provide exemplary stewardship of the lands entrusted to its care, especially for future generations, of which we are now one. For decades the Forest Service seemed up to the lofty challenge. But today it is a leaky vessel, and voices are being heard that it is beyond saving.


Looking across the Cascade Mountains as I knew them many years ago.

The century-old notion of national forests—and a government and a people being wise enough to set aside lands dedicated to principles of conservation rather than exploitation—was radical. But this idea has stood the test of time and is broadly emulated internationally.

Nevertheless, many people have given up on the Forest Service, and I sense that Chris was also close to giving up. I’m glad, however, that he chose instead to invest hope in the concept of the Forest Service and our national, public forests, to illustrate what forestlands can mean for our future when properly understood and appreciated. His vision is a call to action.

I first met Chris in the mid-1980s while I was working on the San Juan National Forest in Colorado. He had been invited to speak to local Forest Service officials. Who was this guy talking authoritatively about truffles, mouse poop, mycorrhizae, northern spotted owls, and bugs? And making sense! But why was I hearing such “truths” for the first time, after 20 years in the profession?

I eventually became Supervisor of the Siuslaw National Forest, which is headquartered in Corvallis, Oregon, where Chris lives. I gave a speech shortly after the Northwest Forest Plan was released in 1994. The Northwest Forest Plan—“The Answer” to decades of forest conflict in the Pacific Northwest—laid out a challenge to change the path of management on federal forests (and by implication on all forests). Making the plan work, however, was an altogether different challenge.

When Chris read my speech a few days later, he called me and said that if I needed anything from him to help me implement the forest plan, to just ask. I never redeemed the favor—until now, and I’m late in asking. If I had been thinking beyond myself, I would have asked for a BIG favor, something that would benefit many people, not just me.

I would have asked Chris to write a book about why forests are important to the world; why they ought to be recognized as a biological living trust we hold for future generations; and why the U.S. Forest Service is in a unique position to lead a radical reformation. Chris, I would have asked you to put in everything you’ve learned about forests, and most especially what you’ve learned about people. But you anticipated this need—“Our Forest Legacy” is just the favor I should have asked for. I’m glad you didn’t wait. We need your wisdom. May it move us to action.–Jim Furnish , Deputy Chief, 
National Forest System
, USDA Forest Service (retired)


My wife, Zane, and me on side of Cone Peak in the Oregon Cascades.


“Agenda 21, adopted at the 1992 RIO summit, calls for concerted action and far-reaching decisions by governments, non-governmental organization, and the scientific community to preserve biodiversity. In Maser’s seminal book “Global Imperative,” he demonstrates the limits with which managed landscapes, such as forest ecosystems, can sustain their processes. Now, at the beginning of the new millennium, Maser presents much more evidence that points to the necessity of balancing ecological and social imperatives in order to protect and/or restore biodiversity in the forested ecosystems of the United States.

“His vision of a Forest Advisory Council leading the way with insights into socio-economic and biophysical principles are clearly in concordance with the concept of social-environmental sustainability. Our Forest Legacy, the 20th book from of Maser’s pen, reflects some of the exciting scientific progress of the last twenty years in the study of forest ecosystems. The research of which Maser writes links forest ecophysiology and ecoeconomy with biogeochemistry from a long-term perspective for the social-environmental sustainability of national public forests in the United States. In addition, Maser proposes to employ the everyday caretaking principles of policy, planning, and implementation embodied in the ‘National Indicators’ of the Forest Stewardship Council-US in order to maintain and/or restore forest ecosystems for the benefit of all generations.”—Helmut Blaschke, Ph.D.,
 Research Forest Biologist, 
School of Forestry and Natural Resource Management, 
Technische Universität München, 
Freising, Germany.

“This volume is a braided stream of philosophical reminiscences of an enlightened forester intent on exposing the linear-mindedness of forestry professionals and forest industries. With a focus on western North America, Maser covers a lot of ground, looping from nutrient cycles to epistemology. The author clearly cares about both human dignity and forests as living systems.

“The book’s central theme is the ignominy of profit-maximizing forest industries working in cahoots with the U.S. Forest Service in the ruthless exploitation and widespread mismanagement of the public’s forests—our legacy. His well-justified wrath at the despoilment of our living trust informs as it motivates. Nevertheless, I found his frequent citations of his own publications and the quotations from several of his other 18 books a bit off-putting, especially because, in the process, he too often overlooked the recent and ecological insights of other researchers.

“Raising consciousness about forest mismanagement is important, as is teaching about forest ecology, but the volume includes few workable alternatives. Enlightenment is perhaps a prerequisite for purposeful action, but what sorts of actions are appropriate? Shutting down the forest industries of the west might be nice for westerners, but will only increase pressure on the fiber basket of the south and the rainforests of the further south. Is there a place for intensive forestry? Might carbon offsets and other payments for environmental services help? And is forest product certification by the Forest Stewardship Council really serving to reform forest industries? Maser is unfortunately mute on these issues.

“Although the author does not provide many solutions, I enjoyed following him from the classics to the gutter politics of timber sales to the corruption of thinning as a fire surrogate. Maser the philosopher-scientist has an impressive breadth of knowledge. He is eloquent on ethics and ecology, setting an example for those of us who hesitate to mix science and spirituality. Our Forest Legacy provides a wealth of information and inspiration for environmentalists, principally those immersed in forest debates in western North America.”—Francis E. Putz, University of Florida, Gainesville, 
The Quarterly Review of Biology (2007) 82(1):71.


Ancient forest in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon.

Photo of Zane and me is by and courtesy of Sue Johnston.

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

Our Forest Legacy:  Today’s Decisions, Tomorrow’s Consequences. 2005. Maisonneuve Press, Washington, D.C. 255 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.

Protected by Copyscape Web Copyright Protection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: