Across the inland West, forests that once seemed like paradise have turned into an ecological nightmare. Fires, insect epidemics, and disease now threaten millions of acres of once-bountiful forests. Yet no one can agree what went wrong. Was it too much management - or not enough - that forced the forests of the inland West to the verge of collapse? Is the solution more logging, or no logging at all? In this gripping work of scientific and historical detection, Nancy Langston unravels the disturbing history of what went wrong with the western forests, despite the best intentions of those involved. Focusing on the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, she explores how the complex landscapes that so impressed settlers in the nineteenth century became an ecological disaster in the late twentieth. Federal foresters, intent on using their scientific training to stop exploitation and waste, suppressed light fires in the ponderosa pinelands. Hoping to save the forests, they could not foresee that their policies would instead destroy what they loved. When light fires were kept out, a series of ecological changes began. Firs grew thickly in forests once dominated by ponderosa pines, and when droughts hit, those firs succumbed to insects, diseases, and eventually catastrophic fires.
Langston, an ecologist and assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, presents a history and analysis of forest management in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and Washington. Beginnning her story before the arrival of whites, she reminds us that although we think of the land as "wild" and "natural" before our arrival, in fact the Natives had been changing it for thousands of years to suit their own needs. She chronicles U.S. Forest Service management, and mismanagement, from the beginning of the 20th century yet advises that this is a story without villains or heroes. Langston contends that the situation is more complicated than represented by either environmentalists or traditional foresters. She suggests that we find a way to let the natural constraints of a place shape our efforts toward it, so that we work with the land rather than trying to play God with it. An excellent selection for forestry and environmental collections.William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames