Printer Friendly

The public forests of tomorrow.

I've always enjoyed speculating about the future. It's a delightful mental exercise that sharpens our imaginations and creative abilities. And though it can be a serious exercise, an active sense of humor is almost essential. Overly serious computer model builders should not attempt it without supervision.

During the past year, at various gatherings celebrating the centennial of the 1891 law that created the national forests, I was asked to speculate about the future of these public lands. I defended my fanciful prognosticating as a worthwhile exercise to help us discover how some seemingly insignificant short-term issues may prove very important a century hence. It's sort of like sighting in a rifle. A very small variance in the line of sight will make a huge difference in the point of impact at 100 yards.

And you have to pay attention to outside influences. The winds of change often blow softly, but they can alter things surprisingly far off in the future. Who, for example, would have thought that a 22-year-old naturalist who set sail for the South Pacific in 1831 would change the way we perceived the natural world and ourselves? Not even Darwin himself could have dreamed how important his travels on the Beagle would become.

So, let me do a bit of prophesying in the hope that you will be provoked to envision your own fantasy for the national forests a century hence. And in the process, hopefully, you'll reexamine your assumptions about the purposes of these public lands and the forces now shaping their future.

THE PAST IS PRELUDE

FIRST, CONSIDER WHAT THESE PLACES CALLED THE NATIONAL FORESTS WERE LIKE IN 1890. THAT MIGHT GIVE US SOME HINTS AS TO WHAT THE CRITICAL INFLUENCES MIGHT BE WHEN WE ZOOM PAST THE PRESENT INTO THE LAST DECADE OF THE 21ST CENTURY.

Most of the areas that are now national forests were uninhabited public lands (and actually still are, a very rare situation in this crowded world!). There was almost no logging, except in those areas in the East that would be purchased later in the next century. There was some unregulated livestock grazing, few controls on the consumptive use of wildfire, and no exotic insects or diseases. In terms of air, water, and soil pollution, these lands were almost pristine landscapes compared to the present. They were largely inaccessible ecosystems in a relatively natural state with a far wider range of biological diversity than exists today.

There were no engineered roads; few trails; no improved campgrounds, toilets, showers, fences, lookout towers, signs, information centers, forest plans, Environmental Impact Statements, handbooks, timber sale appraisals, or rangers; in sum, no national forests.

And, as painful as it may be for those of us who have served in the Forest Service to acknowledge, these lands were in far better shape than they are today. The reasons they were in better shape before they were designated national forests are not, however, as obvious as some critics of the Forest Service might claim. Without a doubt, these lands would be in far worse shape today if Gilford Pinchot hadn't "invented" the Forest Service.

The reasons for their systematic exploitation are to be found mostly outside the forest boundaries in a complex, yet immature, urbanizing society with an insatiable need for natural resources. In 1892 we were about as far from the Civil War as we are today from the Vietnam War. We were an isolationist nation with little interest in world politics (as some say we still are in 1992). The frontier had just officially been closed, and we were looking to science for new horizons.

There was virtually no regulation of the economy, although the Grangers and Populist William Jennings Bryan were arguing for a graduated income tax, labor laws, sound money, control of railroads and communications, and popular election of the Senate. It was a roller-coaster, bust-and-boom economy in which no one paid income or sales taxes and millionaires were being created by new technology, the exploitation of natural resources, and the cheap labor of children, women, and immigrants.

Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller had total monopolies on steel and oil production and never paid a cent of personal taxes. Most of the nation's energy, food, transportation, and communications were totally controlled by private corporations with no public regulation of product quality, worker health and safety, or resources exploitation and environmental pollution.

We can now look back and see the beginning of the build-up of atmospheric [CO.sub.2] and the beginnings of declining biodiversity worldwide. Passenger pigeons were still flying, but were already doomed to extinction. From a population numbering in the billions, the species dwindled to just one; it died in a zoo in 1914. While the future national forests were fairly free of pollution, America's cities and society were in sad shape.

The cities were knee-deep in horse dung, with open sewers, unsafe drinking water, severe local air pollution from coal and wood smoke, rampant bacterial pollution, and wholly inadequate health care. There was defacto slavery for blacks, Native Americans, women, children, and the elderly. No women and few minority persons voted.

Luckily, most people lived in rural areas and on farms. Most were immigrants with little knowledge about the state of the nation, especially about places like the soon-to-be national forests. Current information was limited to private newspapers and a few magazines, if you could afford them and if you could read. The idea of national citizen conservation organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation wouldn't emerge for 50 years--not until F.D.R. began to define the national government as a key player in local government and land use management. An exception was the American Forestry Association, rounded in 1875, although it was dominated by foresters and other professionals, with a limited general membership.

Think about life in the last decade of the 19th century. No radio, TV, motion pictures, airplanes, FAXs, VCRs, computers, chain saws, antibiotics, vaccinations, heart surgery, Social Security, nylon, plastics, nuclear waste, PCBs, DDT, or Dioxin, just to name a few of the modern "wonders" we now take for granted.

There was no Park Service, Forest Service, state forests, or colleges of forestry or wildlife management. Teddy Roosevelt was on his Dakota Territory ranch playing cowboy, Gilford Pinchot was in France learning to be an efficient forester, and John Muir was Yosemite's resident Tarzan and organizing the Sierra Club.

The Congress had debated dozens of bills to create national forest and park reserves for a decade, most failing in the Senate, which was then made up of loyal politicians, elected by state legislatures. But in 1891 the impossible happened. An unnoticed rider, attached to an omnibus land bill in a conference committee on the eve of adjournment, empowered the president to create Forest Reserves. Some historians believe it was an illegal authorization in that it was added in a conference committee and was not part of either the House or Senate version of the bill.

There must have been quite a celebration at the American Forestry Association, and I wonder if they speculated about what these forests would be like a century hence, in 1991. Did they dream of eastern national forests purchased from private owners, of local forest plans and Environmental Impact Statements being challenged in federal courts? Did they imagine federal funds being used to build highways to haul logs; federal laws protecting owls, warblers and wolves; Earth First!; satellite mapping; the Resources Planning Act; or the National Forest Management Act?

I wonder if they envisioned the kind of consumptive uses and economic-driven management that Gifford Pinchot would bring back from France and Germany. Most bills introduced up until then envisioned only protection of watersheds, control of fire, and prevention of trespass by loggers and stockmen.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

WELL, ENOUGH OF THE 1890s. WHAT WILL THE NATIONAL FORESTS BE LIKE IN THE 2090s? WHAT WILL THESE FOREST LANDSCAPES BE LIKE, WHO WILL BE IN CHARGE, AND HOW WILL OUR ATTITUDES AND POLICIES TOWARD THESE PUBLIC LANDS HAVE CHANGED?

First, we have to make some assumptions about how the world will have changed, about the national and global context at the end of the 21st century. We could debate some of what follows, but most scientists would probably agree that the majority of these predictions are almost sure bets. I expect, at the very least, we'd all agree that the future is becoming increasingly unpredictable, that we are living with enormous uncertainty. Nevertheless, some things are looking fairly predictable, given present trends. Here's some predictions, stated as they might be if we were looking back to the present from 2092:

* World population has almost tripled, to 14 billion. It would have been much larger except for the massive AIDS epidemic early in the century, and the new male birth-control pill.

* Climate changes have transformed North America as global temperature rose two degrees by 2025, and five degrees by 2070. Most agricultural and forest areas were transformed. Red spruce disappeared in the East, as did sugar maple south of Canada, for example.

* Air pollution caused major dispersion of urban populations into rural areas nationwide by 2020. Most people now live in small communities, relating to their jobs via electronic systems. The "office" as we knew it in 1992 no longer exists.

* Oil supplies dwindled early in the century, and by 2060 were no longer used for transportation, space heating, or electric generation. Solar-electric power now predominates, including all vehicles previously powered by petroleum. As a result, air quality has improved considerably.

* Water shortages in midcentury-- coupled with chaotic climate changes that included violent storms, lengthy drought, and major shifts in seasonal weather patterns--caused dramatic transformations of food supply systems and regional landscapes. California and Florida no longer export food; corn and wheat production shifted north into Canada; the Intermountain West and high Great Plains are deserts, and much of the Eastern United States has reverted to grasslands and shrub hardwood forests.

* Water management is the primary concern of environmental managers, along with the protection of wildlife. Open range livestock grazing on public lands was discontinued early in the 21st century. Intensive rotational grazing systems on eastern pastures produce most of the red meat. Fish farms and synthetic soy meat production are the major sources of protein foods.

* Most wood-based products are synthesized from fiber grown on hybrid forest plantations in previous corn-belt areas. Very little roundwood or natural species are used, except for very specialized products and for fuel in other areas of the world. Recycling of all forms of natural fiber is nearly 100 percent, with new manufacturing processes that minimize fiber breakdown.

(I won't even attempt to speculate on the likely scientific advances in medicine, genetic engineering, robotics, and computer science. We simply don't have the foresight or the vocabulary to do so.)

On the government side, there have been some significant changes. North America is a single multinational confederation. When Quebec became independent of Canada in 1996, the Maritime Provinces became U.S. states. All the remaining provinces, including Quebec, became states by 2020. By midcentury, Mexico and Central America to Panama had also become part of the United States.

At about the same time, a new level of government--Regional Provinces-was established and took over many former state functions. These Regional Provinces are based primarily on watershed and eco-landscape boundaries, and are the constituent districts of a Constitutionally-restructured U.S. Senate.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE NATIONAL FORESTS

GONE BY THE 2030s, NOT SURPRISINGLY, WERE THE OLD PUBLIC LAND-MANAGEMENT DESIGNATIONS OF NATIONAL PARKS, NATIONAL FORESTS, AND THEIR STATE COUNTERPARTS, ALONG WITH SUCH SINGLE-PURPOSE AGENCIES AS THE PARK SERVICE, BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, FISH AND WILDLIKE SERVICE, RECLAMATION SERVICE, AGRICULTURAL STABILIZATION AND CONSERVATION SERVICE, SOIL CONSERVATION SERVICE,AND SEPARATE DEPARTMENTS OF AGRICULTURE, INTERIOR AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION.

The Forest Service, along with units of other defunct agencies, became the core of a new Department of Environmental Conservancy--an agency staffed primarily at the new provincial level. The old national park, forest, and state ownership designations no longer appear on the map, replaced by new Environmental Conservancy Districts (ECDs).

ECD boundaries are green-lines, within which comprehensive land-use plans integrate all resource use and land management, whether on private or public lands. Most Wilderness Areas and other reserved lands are in public ownership or are protected by public easements on private lands. The remainder of the ECDs are working landscapes with integrated, multi-resource management of agriculture, forest, and watershed lands.

As in 20th-century English national parks, local countryside planning commissions define local rural and urban land use patterns within and outside the ECDs. This complies with national and provincial planning mandates and with financial subsidies for landowners in historic or landscape protection districts aimed at preserving special natural or built environments.

In areas where the old national forests predominated, private forest lands are managed in concert with public lands through regional cooperatives. Since there is almost no industrial harvest of roundwood, most of the area is managed for water, wildlife, and recreation, and as research and demonstration areas where new land-use management strategies are developed.

Most importantly, these public lands are managed as the nation's source of carbon credits in the world market. Under agreements reached at the UNCED-II conference in Tibet in 2012, a nation's production of [CO.sub.2] must be offset by maintaining adequate forest areas or by purchasing credits from other nations. The impact of this agreement was twofold. First, it made the old national forests far more valuable as [CO.sub.2] sinks than for wood production. And, since we are unable to meet our total carbon-control quota internally, we transfer significant money and technology to the developing nations in return for carbon credits. This global sharing of technology, financial resources, and environmental protection, made possible by drastic reductions in military spending, has alleviated most of the deprivation in the developing world.

In the Eastern ECDs, there is an extensive system of easements on private lands for watershed, wildlife, and recreation management, and leases on public lands for private recreation and sustainable agricultural enterprises. Small, decentralized industrial sites are located within historic settlement areas, physically separated by greenbelts and linked by electronic networks and a system of greenways with electric railways.

The managing agency for the ECDs, the successor of the Forest Service, is a similar multi-disciplinary agency. While it employs people trained in the older professions of forestry, wildlife management, recreation, and similar narrow disciplines, most of the managers have degrees in a variety of interdisciplinary environmental studies fields such as landscape synecology, eco-jurisprudence, euology, and cybereconetics.

In 2091 there were only a few living veterans of the old Forest Service, which was absorbed into the new agency on its 125th birthday, in 2030. At that 125th celebration, the last chief of the Forest Service said she was confident that the traditions of the old Forest Service would be the solid foundation of the new agency well into the 22nd century. The new secretary of the Department of Environmental Conservancy said he agreed, and brought greetings from the president, who was unable to attend because she was in Siberia signing a new carbon credit treaty.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:forest predictions for the 21st century
Author:Reidel, Carl
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:2528
Previous Article:Mark of the trespasser.
Next Article:Red Oaks and Black Birches: The Science and Lore of Trees.
Topics:


Related Articles
Environment, economics, and forestry's future.
Industrial forests.
Timberlands tomorrow.
Americans and their forests: a love-hate story.
Ecosystem management: a leap ahead.
To cut or not to cut: how to manage healthy forests.
A Tree-Lined MEMORY LANE.
PICTURE THIS.
A history of 'common forests': backyard woodlands invite diverse public use and lay the groundwork for cooperation on larger issues. A look at how...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters