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The future of forestry: two views from the top.

As this special issue of American Forests reflects on almost every page, many of the bedrock beliefs that have long governed the management of this nation's forests are under siege. As one result, the profession of forestry is at a critical crossroads.

The two authors of this issue's LOOKOUT section are eminently well placed to take the long view, and perhaps to help direct the steps of the nation's foresters as their increasingly social science makes a turn up a new trail marked by different signposts. Each of them is just recently retired from a top-level position of forestry leadership--John Beuter as Acting Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, overseeing the U.S. Forest Service, and Brian Boyle as Public Lands Commissioner for the State of Washington, managing one of the nation's largest nonfederal forest ownerships.


After 12 years in office in Washington State, I am often asked to comment on the subject of "balancing science and politics in the practice of forestry." The question assumes you can balance science and politics in forestry, and, further, that someone knows how to do it. Well, I confess--balancing science and politics is not something I have ever consciously done. In fact, I'm not sure it can be done, not in the sense of seasoning a stew--a little science, a little politics, a little more science, until it's just right, a kind of curried forestry.

In fact, the point in natural-resource management is not to blend or balance science and politics; it is to separate them, and confine each to its proper sphere. This is a hard point to get across, because we have a tendency in our culture--dominated as it is by data and statistics--to regard science as somehow purer or more reliable than politics, a more objective, and hence better, base for decisions than are political beliefs, which are typically seen as emotional, subjective, and liable to manipulation by unscrupulous rascals.

It didn't take long in public office before I started searching for different answers. I found that nearly every issue brought before me--as before any policymaker in the natural-resources arena--had advocates with impeccable scientific credentials arguing on either side. So what's a poor politician supposed to do? Count the votes and forget the rest? It's not that simple.

Over time, I've learned a great deal, and this education has led me toward some of my decisions. Assuming some of these decisions and directions made sense, it's worthwhile to consider how, in my view, the rule of the scientific forestry community is going to have to evolve.

The first lesson I learned--and it's one we all have to accept--is that natural-resource controversies are not clashes of facts but clashes of values. In our society, such clashes are resolved through the political process, which is why it is so logical to put an elected politician in charge of the Washington State forests. As we know, values are not entirely intellectual in

origin. They arise from our experience of the world, and from the generally unspoken set of assumptions, beliefs, ideals, and prejudices that compose our psychological infrastructure: what some call paradigms and others call myths.

Now, you may deplore this state of affairs: how sad it is, for example, that the ideas of hard-headed business leaders and skilled, analytically oriented foresters and engineers cannot always prevail over the woollier heads and unrealistic ideals of environmentalists.

That is not how I see it, however. My view of forestry controversies over the last 12 years is that they are more like a clash of mythologies, and here I must say that the forestry community has its own mythology. I don't mean that foresters believe things that are manifestly untrue, but that they share a set of beliefs that are unexamined by the general populace.

But let's try to examine them now. What are the myths of forestry?

* Myth One is that trees are simply a crop--like corn, except they take longer to grow--and that therefore all forestry problems are technical and economic.

* Myth Two follows from this: The public demand for the green space and recreation provided by forested lands is somebody else's problem.

* The third myth is that forests are just clumps of trees, and trees in private forests have value only as timber to the stockholders that own them.

* The fourth myth is that the forest industry is doing everything more or less right, within its economic constraints, and that public doubts about it are therefore irrational.

* Myth Five is that if only the forestry community could find some way to convince the public that it really knows what it's doing, these doubts would evaporate.

* The final myth is that the public has an insatiable desire to constrain the harvest of trees.

Of course, there is an environmental mythology as well, and not a hidden one either. Environmentalists wear their mythology on their sleeves. Some environmentalist myths are:

* Before commercial timbering started in the Northwest, our forests were an unbroken array of ancient trees;

* Certain trees in the modern forest have a status called Ancient Old-Growth and therefore should not be cut down;

* There is such a thing as a natural forest and that it is superior to a forest planted by people;

* There is something called "selective logging" that doesn't damage forests;

* Timber-industry employment is depressed primarily by the export of logs; and

* The organized environmental movement represents the true public interest.

One can argue forever about the facts underlying these myths. The political reality is that the existence of such unexamined beliefs blocks effective negotiations between the forestry community and the environmentalists. The political task is to keep these two conflicting mythologies from paralyzing the search for solutions.

When such paralysis strikes, it gives rise to the vain hope that some panel of biological bureaucrats will speak from on high and resolve the resource conflicts. Despite the fact that the allocation of resources seldom has a strictly scientific solution, it is possible to pretend so, as we have done in the spotted-owl controversy. Such pretense does not, in my view, serve either the public or science very well.

So what can we do, short of letting every conflict devolve into litigation? I think there are two general approaches to this problem, and both have worked pretty well for Washington State.

The first one--which I regard as the single most important lesson I've learned--is that in order for forestry to flourish in this political environment, it is necessary to aggressively pursue nontimber values. It's not simply a matter of negotiating passive compromises after the polarity has established itself. You have to move aggressively in seeking opportunities to protect sensitive lands, to predict and meet the public's desire for recreation and green space, to protect watersheds and streams. And not only must you do it, you must be seen to do it by those most concerned, which means that you have to bring the environmentalists, the tribes, and the recreational interests into your land-allocation decisions at an early stage.

As a result of such efforts, we have added 9,000 acres of land to the state parks and created a 40,000-acre system of conservation areas and preserves, all of it transferred from school trust ownership with appropriate compensation.

We have also established ways of institutionalizing the legitimate concerns of non-timber interests in the development of forest practices. These innovations are, in my view, the major reason DNR has the kind of credibility that has enabled us to run a timber-sales program without the sort of continual strife that has afflicted the U.S. Forest Service.

That brings me to the second approach, which is grounded in the essential nature of the American political system. I've said that politics can be irrational; in other words, that it is based on the feelings, the emotional symbolism, even the delusions of people. But it's important to understand that such things stand in the same relation to politics as experimental data does to the scientific enterprise. They are not aberrations or failures. Any solvable political equation must encompass people, with all their foibles.

And just as scientific knowledge is fed into an experiment--with the expectation that it will produce more knowledge--so the feelings, beliefs, and understanding of people is fed into the political arena, with the expectation that some kind of learning will take place. In fact, our political system is itself a kind of experimental apparatus. That's what a democracy is. That's the reason we put up with all the inefficiency and nonsense: because out of it, actually quite often, something new emerges, something that transcends the former polarities and makes them moot. Or sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes we make big mistakes and suffer the consequences, as we ought to--the experiment fails, in other words, but we still learn something.

Science is, of course, a critical factor in the experimental mix. I have therefore tried over the past 12 years to augment and enrich democratic processes in reaching natural-resource policy decisions, bringing the latest scientific knowledge directly before groups of people with radically different values, interests, and cultural perspectives concerning resources, and asking them to grapple with important resource decisions.

In most cases, it's worked well. The Commission on Old-Growth Alternatives, for example, was able to come up with an innovative plan for managing 165,000 acres of the state's forests on the Olympic Peninsula. The Sustainable Forestry Roundtable developed ideas that are now incorporated into our forest-practices regulations. Other examples include Tiger Mountain State Forest near Seattle and the San Juan Islands, both places where local concerns have been worked out by enlisting diverse interests to help solve problems.

We have always found among the people involved an encouraging willingness to modify views in response to the vision of others and to scientific information, and a remarkable ability to develop novel solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts.

The key factors here are trust and empowerment. The people must trust the public agency to pursue the broadest possible public interest, and by public interest I mean not just the interests of a majority of the current electorate but the interests of the public over the long historical run.

And the people must have the sense that they are really being consulted, that what they bring to the table--their hopes, fears, beliefs, and aspirations--are as important to the decision as the opinions of the experts, that they have some measure of power over their own environment. I think that it is in this way that the illuminating power of science--married to direct, participatory democracy--can best further our efforts toward a fair and sustainable natural resources policy.

I must add here a caution: the continual dogged search for truth that science insists on can become a place for people to hide from the rigors of public confrontation. It is much riskier to admit that we don't have all the pieces of the puzzle, and to invite other views into our search for an acceptable solution, given the science that is currently available.

Such a risk, however, offers the potential for a major payoff in terms of early resolution, avoidance of litigation, the development of innovative solutions, and the growth of trust among parties in contention. Furthermore, I believe the payoff potential is great enough that private landowners must initiate similar efforts.


It is important that I emphasize at the outset the premise that forestry means managing forests for human benefit. That may seem obvious to many, but my two-year immersion in the politics of forest-related issues has taught me it is not universally understood or accepted.

Some recoil at relating forest management to human benefit. Don't concerns about sustainable ecosystems and preservation of plant and animal species transcend human benefit? Perhaps in some quasi-religious context, but not in a rational decision-making context. Even a decision to preserve a forest untouched must derive from some concept of human benefit in order for it to be accepted in cultures of participatory governance such as exist in the U.S. and much of world today. Without the premise of managing forests for human benefit, there is no future for forestry.

The office of Assistant Secretary of Agriculture overseeing the Forest Service is ideal for distilling what is bothering the American people about forests and forestry. Through the office flow thousands of heartfelt letters from ordinary citizens concerned enough to write the President or a cabinet officer. It is a crossroads of political interaction involving the executive and legislative branches and natural-resource agencies at all levels of government, special interests, and the overlay of legal arguments and the rulings of the courts on forest issues.

Most surprising to me was the depth and extent of belief among the media, citizenry, and even public officials that U.S. forests are being destroyed through management. Discounting exaggerations of forest destruction by organizations raising funds for environmental causes, there remains a general misunderstanding of the role forests have played in the development of our nation, and a general ignorance about the extent of preservation, conservation, protection, rehabilitation, planning, and monitoring that have already been accomplished through law, regulation, and the practice of forestry on both public and private lands.

Recent analyses by Resources for the Future and the U.S. Forest Service provide convincing testimony that despite demands on our forests over the past 200 years, and whatever management mistakes might have been or are being made, the nation's forests are not being destroyed. To the contrary, over the past 50 years the percentage of U.S. area that is forested has remained about the same, while the stocking and growth of trees have increased nationwide.

These findings are especially significant because the data and analyses from which they derive pertain mainly to timberland, both public and private, and not the significant forest area preserved in national parks, wilderness areas, or other designations that restrict or preclude timber and other resource development. If widespread destruction of U.S. forests had indeed occurred anywhere, it would have been on timberlands, much of which have already been harvested one or more times. The evidence suggests it hasn't occurred.

This is not to say there aren't problems. To be sure, some areas have been harvested that shouldn't have been, or were harvested in ways that caused problems for other resource values. Some harvested areas have not regenerated properly. Some site productivity has been lost due to nutrient depletion and erosion. Some forests have been lost to other land uses (which may or may not be a problem). Forests have burned, and some have even been destroyed by volcanic eruptions. Some forestry practices have had negative effects on water quantity and quality, fish and wildlife populations, and forest aesthetics.

But it is also true that our forests have contributed and are still contributing greatly to the development of our nation and the quality of our lives. On the whole, our forests are in pretty good shape, and the great forestry debates of this generation will serve to insure that they remain so, if not better, in the future.

My recent drive from Washington, DC, to Oregon took me through several Rocky Mountain national forests that have recently appeared regularly in the news because of forest-planning and management disputes and litigation. I went through small communities founded on a base of forest-resource development. Their well-being depends on sustainable resource availability, whether timber, water, forage, minerals, or recreation opportunity. The beauty of the landscape, both managed and unmanaged, and the peaceful solitude of these scattered communities are not supportive of the public perception of disaster forged by the outrage of warring interests, litigation, and media hype. The forest seems to be doing just fine, in contrast to the uncertain future of communities whose fate may rest in the U.S. Congress or the federal courts.

The great challenge for forestry in the future is to be recognized, respected, and confident as a profession in the broad context of interdisciplinary forest-resource management. I have seen it as it should be, on the ground, in every region of the country on national forests, other public forests, and on private lands. I have seen foresters, wildlife biologists, ecologists, archaeologists, geologists, hydrologists, and others working harmoniously together to manage forests for human benefit. The outrage and crisis meisters don't want you to believe it can be done. It can be, and is, and increasingly will be. Over the 100 years of its existence in the U.S., the forestry profession has always focused on forest health and long-term sustainability. Implementation has differed, depending on the forest conditions, stage of social and economic development, and ownership objectives. Early harvesting of native forests, in pursuit of regional social and economic development, was rationalized in a forestry context as the transformation of decadent old forests to healthy, multi-aged (regulated) forests that would produce sustainable supplies of timber (and, implicitly, sustainable other forest benefits as well), in perpetuity. This exploitive phase was well justified by the contemporary social, economic, cultural, and political context, and forestry knowledge that prevailed over the first two-thirds of this century.

Since the 1960s, significant advances in knowledge about forest ecosystem processes have shifted concepts of forest health and sustainability beyond a focus on timber. Environmental advocacy has increased public awareness and concern about the future of our forests, sometimes to the extent that it fosters the notion that forest management equates with forest destruction. The political and litigative turmoil spawned by the clash of traditional interests and new concepts has resulted in professional confusion and defensiveness.

There is no way of predicting how the interaction of politics and the courts will finally resolve the major public forest issues of today, but every effort should be made to preserve as much decision space as possible for the judgment of resource professionals on the ground. Any objective review of the state of our forests, existing laws and regulations, and the management adaptation already occurring on the ground should make it clear that it is more important to sort out paralyzing conflicts about the existing overlay of laws, regulations, and arbitrary rules than it is to impose even more micro-management regulation into the forest-management process.

Forests cannot be properly managed at arm's-length by theorists, politicians, judges, and computers cobbling together lines on maps, mechanistic rules, and arbitrary laws, regulations, and guidelines. Good forest management derives from site-specific sensitivity and the flexibility of resource professionals to make adaptive, problem-solving decisions on the ground.

Forest-management concepts are changing dramatically--and for the better--across all forest ownerships, sometimes through legal and regulatory requirements, sometimes through economic or esteem incentives. New knowledge and social development will always lead to new concepts and practices for forestry, and there will always be a need to monitor our forests for unanticipated natural events and unintended management outcomes.

There is every reason to be optimistic about the future of forestry and its contributions toward healthy, sustainable forests in America, and--through professional leadership, example and outreach--in the rest of the world.
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Title Annotation:Lookout: Views and Viewpoints on Important Forest Trends and Events
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Romancing the clone.
Next Article:The wildfire fiasco.

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