Toward A Natural Forest. The Forest Service in Transition is not just a chronicle of the Forest Service's rise and fall in the last half of the 20th century. It's a personal story of change both of the author and the agency. The book's author, Jim Furnish, began his career in 1965 when the Forest Service was in the midst of striving toward its pinnacle of growth after WWII by building roads, cutting trees and supplying lumber to a nation hungry for housing. He retired from the Forest Service 34 years later after a barrage of lawsuits when its most loyal employees were either sheathing themselves in the armor of the past or questioning their most cherished beliefs about their roles in the free-fall of the nation's forests from ecological reserves to simple tree farms.
Because of ample rainfall, deep soils and a moderate climate, the Siuslaw National Forest on the Oregon coast is one of the best places in the world to grow trees. It was also one of the best places on the earth to grow salmon and steelhead. It's also the classic stage for the battle that took place between the Forest Service as the forest managers and the public as the owners. When Jim Furnish came to the Siuslaw National Forest in the early 1990s he found himself thrust into a storm of timber wars that pitted an entrenched timber industry built on a publicly-owned wood supply against powerful environmental groups who saw this transformation as responsible for the disappearance of salmon runs and natural diversity. When Furnish left the Siuslaw for Washington, D.C., nearly a decade later to finish his career with the agency, the Siuslaw was no longer annually producing millions of board-feet of timber. Its web of rivers and dark, old-growth rain forest had begun a transformation back to its roots as a nursery for salmon and wildlife diversity. Yet trees were again being removed from the land and log trucks were hauling them to mills. But these weren't the giant old-growth trees of the 20th century; these were the product of thinning the second generation of trees that had grown back in their place.
Toward a Natural Forest is the story of our National Forests in transition and the people tasked with guiding that change as they are thrust from a century of clearly defined paths into one of changed public values. But Furnish doesn't leave us with a picture of our public lands (and its management agency) in shattered disarray; he ends his book with hope, and a plan, for the restoration of both. He met the challenges on the Siuslaw National Forest by building back the agency and the forest with new tools applied with the traditional work ethic and loyalty gained from his decade of working for the Forest Service.
"(The Siuslaw National Forest) is a Forest starting to grow back into its natural self again," Furnish says toward the end of his book. "My greatest satisfaction in my long career is the feeling of taking something broken and putting it right."
-- Scott Stouder