For many years, the federal government spent more money studying the breeding and production of corn than it did studying forests. Yale Forestry Professor John Gordon speculates this was related to our myth of an inexhaustible Western frontier: Americans believed that if we needed more trees, or grass, or wilderness, the vast, unpopulated West would always provide it.
But the myth that Western forests are
infinite and simple is starting to fade. In 1990, the National
Research Council advised Congress to increase funding for research
at forestry schools.
"A new paradigm will need to
be adopted - an environmental paradigm," announced the advisory
group's report. Such a change would require forestry research to
"increase the breadth of research areas covered and the depth to
which they are investigated."
those recommendations still hold true. The need for increased
research is compounded by a growing crisis in both the health and
productivity of our forests, according to Dick Fisher, one of the
authors of the report and the head of the Department of Forest
Science at Texas A&M; University.
Congress' purse strings are pulled painfully tight, a situation
which Fisher says is aggravated by the politically charged nature
of forestry these days.
"In Washington, D.C., in
particular, a third of the people dislike you if you have something
to do with ecosystem management," he says. "Others dislike you if
you don't have anything to do with ecosystem management. I think
the big decrease in Forest Service research funding this year (from
$193 million to $178 million) stems from the fact that there's a
bunch of (congresspeople) on the appropriating committee who think
the Forest Service has gone way to the left of the spectrum."
Officials in Western forestry schools - which
customarily get most of their research funding from the federal
government - are concerned about Congress' tightening grasp on the
schools' customary sources of research dollars, such as the U.S.
Forest Service. But academic forest scientists are developing new
sources of funding both inside and outside the halls of government,
and are increasing cooperative research efforts with the U.S.
Forest Service and others.
"I think what we're
seeing is more partnerships, more collaborative work," says Perry
Brown, dean of the University of Montana's School of Forestry.
"We're putting our heads together and figuring out new ways of
doing business where we have state, federal and private forest
scientists working together.
collaboration is a very welcome side effect," he adds. "At a
university we have to model that. If we don't model it, the
students aren't going to learn it."
For a copy of the
National Research Council's 84-page report, Forestry Research: A
Mandate for Change, send $14.95 plus $4 shipping to the National
Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Box 285,
Washington, DC 20055, or order by calling 800/624-6242. The
private, nonprofit National Research Council advises Congress on