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Last Stand: Logging, Journalism, and the Case for Humility.

This book is already being hailed as the latest and greatest expose of corporate America's environmental rape. A New York Times correspondent says it "should be required reading for anyone interested in the truth about corporate logging." Corporate logging has enough sins for a boardroom full of confessions, but unfortunately Manning's own sins disqualify him from the role of Grand Inquisitor.

The subtitle for this book could be "The Making of an Environmental Activist." With Manning's training in journalism, he may become a good one, but for now he is an angry one who is more notable for heat than light. What fired him up was a series he wrote in 1988 about two timber companies--Plumb Creek and Champion.

Manning's stories outlined the familiar environmental problems of large-scale clearcuts and the fact that the two companies appeared to be cutting much faster than their avowed policy of sustained yield, growing a foot of timber for each one cut. He also claims that the newspaper's management tried to quash the stories, toned them down, colluded with the timber companies to produce more favorable news, and then fired the author.

His boss at the newspaper says Manning was taken off the environmental beat because he became too biased, a charge Manning seems bent on proving true in this book. By his own account, the author went to college to study politics, "the more radical the better." As a journalist he never covered science or the environment until he arrived in Montana after 14 years and five jobs. The background shows.

Manning accuses timbercompany officials of lying about their practices and seems dismayed that a Plum Creek executive for the Rockies issued statements that were "Reaganesque and blunt, battering rams with the bark still on them." Since when is being blunt so bad in matters of great import? Manning is just as blunt, and while he may not lie, he appears indiscriminate about applying his facts and calling people names.

At one point he opens a section on the Forest Service saying it "is nothing if not hell bent on cutting trees." Later and throughout the book, he speaks with considerable respect of Forest Service supervisors who enforce moratoriums on timber sales, and he relies heavily on the Forest Service's fine scientists.

At one point he lashes timber companies when their plantings fail and there is nothing to hold the snow and its moisture on the hillsides. Later he laments that a failed hillside plantation yields only brush (which of course holds snow and might shelter tree seeds.) A few pages later he criticizes forest plantations for doing away with the brush that is browse for deer and rodents. This is not a matter of context justifying the position. It is fact being selected to fuel passion, hoping its fires will leap from Manning's crown to another's.

Manning's admirable qualities are his reverence for forests and his bulldog determination to stay with a story. He is indeed a "seeker of unsettling questions," but that is only the beginning of a good book.

Causes want martyrs, and to some extent this book is Manning's description of his own professional martyrdom. We can expect to see him traveling on the lecture circuit complaining of the corporate conspiracy to ruin the environment. Hot stuff. In these days of complex biological issues, what we don't need is an intellectual crown fire to divert our energies.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kaufman, Wallace
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Words:568
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