Until World War II, private forests provided 95 percent of the nation's wood products; from 1945 to 1960, the timber industry turned away from its overcut land to publicly owned trees on the national forests. Confident in their talents and technology, Forest Service managers embraced clearcutting over selective harvesting and built 65,000 miles of road to accommodate logging trucks. In A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests Since World War II, Washington State history professor Paul Hirt tells why clearcutting prevailed and why it failed as a sustainable practice. Readable and well-documented, Conspiracy is a gutsy undertaking for an untenured history professor at a land-grant institution. But he also targets the public. "Congress and the Forest Service reflect the values shared by American culture in general. You can't really blame them for giving us what we asked for."
University of Nebraska Press, 312 N. 14th St., Lincoln, NE. 68588-0484 (402/472-3581). Hardcover: $40. 400 pages.