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Science and Hope: a forest history.

Science and Hope: a forest history

John Dargavel and Elisabeth Johann

The White Horse Press, Cambridge, 2013, 200pp., ISBN 9781-874267-737. 57 [pounds sterling]

Science and Hope is a wonderful new book written by John Dargavel, from Australia, and Elisabeth Johann, from Austria. It presents a comprehensive and eminently readable account of the development of forest science over the past two centuries, as a story of the hopes of foresters and other scientists to understand the functioning of forest systems and the trust that this knowledge would ensure an enduring future for the world's forests. As the authors point out, the magnitude of scientific information about forests is overwhelming--with over 13,000 scholarly articles with 'forest' in their title published in 2012. So how do you cover such a broad subject over such a long period in a way that presents an effective portrayal of the development of the body of knowledge that makes up forest science and yet doesn't overwhelm the reader? Dargavel and Johann have found the perfect recipe by organising the book into a series of subject related chapters each of which gives the reader a good account of the development of key concepts and knowledge enriched with plenty of interesting examples from across the globe. It is the sort of book where you can open it at any page and find something that is quite interesting, but for which you don't need to have read the rest of the book to understand.

The book begins with a chapter on the early origins of forestry and then has a series of chapters on the traditional components of forest science: Measuring, Tending, Profiting and Regulating. These provide good insights into topics such as the challenges of measuring trees and forests, silvicultural systems, interest rates for long rotations and the normal forest. We learn that John Evelyn wrote the early practical forestry book Slyva, published in 1664, drawing on his own simple experiments and documentation of best practice tree growing in England at the time. Who would be surprised that the allowable cut calculated in 1926 for a red spruce forest in the Adirondack mountains using six different methods gave six different figures!

The second section covers components of Introducing, Converting and Conquering where the introduction of species from other places, the conversion of one forest type to another and the exploration and development of forestry in the colonial empires are described. In 1848, Dr Dietrich Brandis went to India at the age of 24 to work as a botanist, became responsible for all the forests of Burma at the age of 37 and then six years later was appointed the Inspector General of all the state forests in British India. In 1906, at the age of 82 Brandis published his great work, Indian Trees, which listed 4,000 forest plants. He also adopted the taungya silvicuture system following observation of a teak plantation established in this manner in northern Burma in 1856 and this system then spread to other colonial administrations as a means of regenerating forests and controlling peasant farmers!

In the third section the components of Breeding, Fertilising and Planning are covered. These components concentrate on the science behind improving forest productivity and then developing simulation models to predict the results of various forest management interventions over the years. The authors give examples of scientific endeavour to both improve the yields from key commercial species and to safeguard the genetic diversity to enable genes suited to changing circumstances to be incorporated into breeding programs. We learn of the Australian forester Bill Stoate who spent 30 years studying plantation nutrition and when he fell foul of politics in Western Australia he was recruited by MacMillan Bloedel in Canada to investigate use of fertilisers in their forests.

The fourth section covers three different forestry paradigms that emerged from the 1970s: Balancing (multiple values), Excising (protected areas) and Devolving (social forestry), all of which are vitally important to modern forest science and practice. The science associated with forest ecology, nature based silviculture and comprehensive forest planning are described. Having worked in the Otways forests in the early 1980s, I enjoyed the description of the Victorian Government's attempt to use forest modelling systems to try to balance economic, social and environmental values and develop a forest management plan that would end public controversy over the use of these forests. Although the plan was adopted by the Government in 1992, ongoing pressure from environment groups (without new scientific evidence) eventually resulted in the whole 157,000 hectares of forest being declared as a conservation reserve. This section also examines the two other major forestry paradigms involving firstly the preservation of forest biodiversity and then the important influence of social sciences. It was the collaborations with social scientists that led to the successful development of "people-centred" forestry policies and practices, particularly in developing countries where so many people depend on forests for their existence. There are examples from Niger, India and the pioneering work in community forestry undertaken by the Nepal-Australia Forestry Project that resulted in methods to empower village people to decide how their local forests should be managed to meet their needs and to facilitate sustainable development.

The last section focuses on the contributions of forest science to the issues of the 21st century including (global) Warming and Sustaining forestry. The contributions of forest scientists who understood how to measure tree growth and estimate the biomass in a forest enabled the global community to understand the important contributions that forests made to both sequestering carbon and releasing it through deforestation and forest degradation. It also paved the way for carbon trading schemes whereby economic values can be calculated for enhancements to forest carbon stocks through changed management practices, potentially offering a mechanism for the global community to reward poor people for their efforts in sustaining and enhancing forests. The final chapter looks at emerging trends to question scientific and traditional knowledge, economics, exclusivity and the role of forests in a landscape and the importance of the process for seeking sustainable forest management rather than the definition of the endpoint.

One of the interesting features of the book is that most chapters contain a box that provides an interesting biography of a famous forester (sadly all men) who contributed significantly to the development of that facet of forest science. These include John Evelyn (England), Walter Bitterlich (Austria), David Douglas (Scotland), Dietrich Brandis (Germany), Bill Stoate (Australia) and Bertil Matern (Sweden). Consider David Douglas who explored the forests of the United States and Canada in his early 20s and introduced over 240 species to British horticulture before meeting an untimely death at 35 when he fell into a pit trap on the island of Hawaii!

I can highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore the origins and depths of forest science in a way that doesn't require months of wading through complex scientific articles.

Tony Bartlett

Forestry Research Program Manager

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research Canberra, Australia
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Author:Bartlett, Tony
Publication:International Forestry Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2013
Words:1168
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