Forestry from the inside

by Irene Wanner

The Forester's Log: Musings from the Woods
Mary Stuever
264 pages, softcover: $24.95.
University of New Mexico Press, 2009.

Forester Mary Stuever started writing newspaper columns "to share my love for forests and my passion for my chosen profession." It's a profession that has changed dramatically during the last 25 years, and in her new collection, The Forester's Log, she helps us understand how -- and why -- those changes have occurred. The old emphasis on harvesting "board-feet" is now overshadowed by the critical need to restore natural conditions to the "cramped, crowded, cluttered forests" left by a century of fire suppression.

To help remedy this disastrous legacy, Stuever has worked on the ground in New Mexico and Arizona, doing everything from fighting fires to setting them for prescribed burns, and from logging trees to planting seedlings. Fire is the "natural check" on the number of trees in any area, she explains. Without sporadic small, low-intensity blazes, fuel loads accumulate, eventually resulting in catastrophic wildfires followed by devastating habitat loss, flooding and erosion. Even readers well aware of this cycle will find Stuever's descriptions of stabilizing and rehabilitating burn areas informative and humbling, as she describes the vast damage caused by well-meant but misguided policies.

Other articles address the relationship between private and federal conservation efforts. In one piece, Stuever and a colleague count the number of blackjack pines thinned by a ranching family. If the culling meets federal guidelines, not only will the trees grow healthier but the ranch will also be eligible for assistance with thinning costs. Stuever shows how landowners can become conscientious caretakers of their property, complementing government stewardship of public lands. 

The columns become repetitious after a while, but Stuever's straightforward prose gives the reader an insider's view of her profession's gradual progress. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of Western forests, she notes -- a conclusion that may seem obvious but has taken some forest managers decades to learn. Stuever's articles "only tell of one forester's experiences," as she says, but she hopes that they will have a larger effect. "If month by month I could share a piece of my life," she explains, "I might make a small dent in the way our society treats our forests and woodlands."

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