Sam MacDonald, Agonist

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Reason's former Washington editor, Samuel A. MacDonald, has his first book out. The Agony of an American Wilderness (Rowman & Littlefield) examines the continuing struggle over the Allegheny National Forest between environmentalists, industry, and the locals who have lived and worked in the area for generations. Sam's book starts off with the 2002 destruction of the Forest Service lab, a fire allegedly set by Earth Liberation Front adherents that destroyed 70 years of research and did $700,000 worth of damage, and goes on to weigh the sometimes passionate arguments about the forest's future. The Allegheny is not an old-growth forest, by the way; the region was mowed flat long ago. Among the arguments: whether the valuable hardwoods forest that grew back is the "right" forest.

The real strength of Sam's work is that he keeps his focus on the people whose lives will be shaped by policy determinations. Sam, who is from western Pennsylvania, wrote the book there under a grant; I played the (mostly useless) offstage role of "mentor." Amazon reports that as of today, only two copies remain in stock (with more on the way). Better order now.

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  1. Too bad about that. I’ve driven the back roads through that area and found it beautiful and uncrowded. Of course my basis of comparison is the forest areas of California.

    Course we don’t have coal mines in the San Bernardino Natl’ Forest. Just sagebrush and burnt stumps. Sounds like an interesting book.

    I met Sam once, he has a fine sense of humor…

  2. And to think, Teddy Roosevelt established the national forests because he thought we were running out of trees.

  3. And to think, Teddy Roosevelt established the national forests because he thought we were running out of trees.

    And 100 years ago, he wasn’t all that wrong. The reason there are so many more trees *now* then there were a century ago is because we did such a good job of chopping them down in the 19th century.

    The Allegheny is not an old-growth forest, by the way; the region was mowed flat long ago.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true:

    Within the Forest, three unique landscapes comprise some of the most extensive virgin forest in the eastern United States. The 4,131 acres of the Tionesta Scenic and Research Natural Area contain ancient virgin white pine, hemlock, and beech. The Hearts Content Area, a primeval tract of 300-400 year old trees, spans 122 acres.

  4. Yes, and Teddy’s primary goal was to have available timber, which is why logging in the forests is permitted and subsidized by us.

  5. Indeed, the purpose of the national forests is to provide trees for loggers to cut down. Hiking for yuppies and hunting are secondary considerations.

  6. The real strength of Sam’s work is that he keeps his focus on the people whose lives will be shaped by policy determinations.

    My dad, who is old-school “conservationist” (which means mixed use, logging is ok when managed for the long term). He lives in N. Idaho (i.e. he’s not some Californian tourist); he was in a bar/restaurant in Salmon, Idaho and got to talking, and it got to the point where he had to suggest “well, you can’t just cut down *all* the trees” and he said he really thought the other guy was going to haul off and punch him. The point of this little anecdote is that sometimes the people whose lives will be shaped aren’t always thinking very clearly.

    Anyway, sounds like an interesting book.

  7. The Clinton administration was on the right track when it tried to reform the pricing structures at both the Forest Service for logging leases and the BLM for grazing rights. They backed down when the loggers and the ranchers screamed too loud.

    A buncha real rugged individualists, eh?

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