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Friday, June 22, 2012

Gimme that Old-Time Forestry

My friend Harry Wiant sent me the link to this movie with the note that it changed his life at 12 and set him on his career path as a forester. Pretty influential movie, since Harry went on to become one of the most influential foresters in the United States during second half of the 20th century. In forestry school I learned to cruise timber with a prism and a Wiant Wedge, and in my senior year I placed second in pole classification and fourth in timber cruising in the Southern Forestry Conclave using these tools.

So, I was curious to watch the movie that started young "Sonny" on his way. It's about an hour and a half long, so you may want to save it for weekend viewing. I was really interested in the first five minutes of the movie, in which they show some great shots of old fire towers, an old mill, and how the Forest Service used to use visual triangulation to locate forest fires, before the GPS was invented.



Interesting to watch Fred McMurray star as a forest ranger before he had his Three Sons. Even more interesting to see the respect with which the character of a forest ranger was treated back in those days.

Harry also passed along an interesting quote from Teddy Roosevelt, who was speaking before a gathering of national foresters in 1903, which elucidated what they then believed to be the mission of the National Forests...

"...And now, first and foremost you can never forget for a moment what is the object of our forest policy.  That is not preserve the forests because they are beautiful, though that is good in itself, not because they are refuges for the wild creatures of the wilderness, though that too is good in itself: but the primary object of our forest policy, as the land policy of the United States, is the making of prosperous homes.  It is part of the traditional policy of home making in our country.  Every other consideration comes as secondary.  You yourselves have got to keep this practical object before your minds: to remember that a forest which contributes nothing to the wealth, progress or safety of the country is of no interest to the government and should be of little interest to the forester.  Your attention must be directed to the preservation of the forests, not as an end in itself, but as a means of preserving and increasing the prosperity of the nation."
Curious, I went to the Forest Service homepage to see if there are any remnants of that vision left in the official talking points. At the bottom of each press release is a mission statement...
"The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world."
And this from the current Chief of the Forest Service, Mr. Tom Tidwell.
"We are dedicated to restore and enhance landscapes, protect and enhance water resources, develop climate change resiliency and help create jobs that will sustain communities."
Hmmm...different views, that's for sure. Well, mission creep infects every organization over time.

Harry was also (in)famous for his different views. One of his most prescient was written in 1993 after attending the annual convention of the Society of American Foresters, and it even mentions his feelings towards "Ecosystem Management"...
"Either there are a lot of people a whole lot smarter than I am...or my 30-year old PhD in silviculture is completely outmoded. Honestly, I don't grasp "ecosystem management," and all those who seem to understand do an awfully poor job of explaining how it will work. All this led me to the following revelation (I hope this isn't sacrilegious).
In the latter days an anti-wise use force will arise and will deceive many. It will reign for one generation. Mills will be closed, prices will rise, and once-productive forests will be filled with dead and dying trees. The sound of the saw and the axe will be heard no more. The woods will be the habitation of agitators, negotiators, and commentators. But this too shall pass. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The people will cry, "Why are we wasting this renewable resource? We cannot afford homes as our fathers before us, and lowly paper is beyond our means. Ecosystem management is a false god which none can comprehend. It is used by those destroying our means of production." And a new generation of foresters will come forth, once again guided by science-based reason and the knowledge that the stand has always been the basic silvicultural unit, and timber the most important product of the forest. It will be understood that man cannot live by bread and shelter alone, but he surely can't live without them.
At that time, the 150-year old SAF will: 1) be greatly favored by all for having stood firm for wise-use conservation, while other organizations were led astray by the sirens of feel-good forestry; or 2) be assigned to the ash-heap of history for having led people into a false forestry, full of words but devoid of meaing. Which will it be?"
- Harry V. Wiant, 1993

Thanks for a dose of that old-time forestry, Harry. The rest of you, have a great weekend and enjoy the movie.

1 comment:

Mike Messina said...

Another good one from the old days is "Red Skies of Montana (1952)". I saw both these movies as a kid, and knew then that I had to be a forester. Of course, I haven't "forestered" in years, but they say "Those who can't do, teach." Now I have proven that "Those who can't teach, become department heads, deans and directors"!