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NATURE’S TEMPLES

new book review
by Timber Press
February 12, 2017

“Maloof eloquently urges us to cherish the wildness of what little old-growth woodlands we have left.…Not only are they home to the richest diversity of creatures, but they work hard for humans too.” —New York Times Book Review

From the preface to Nature’s Temples: Forests have sprung naturally from the earth with no help required from humans. Although trees are the most obvious part of a forest, many, many other life forms exist there as well.

The measure of this variety of life forms is termed biodiversity. The past ten thousand years have seen a drastic reduction in biodiversity due to human activities, primarily the way we manipulate the land. Many species have disappeared completely. Harvesting wood products from forests is one way that humans affect the land. In this book we look specifically at how the life forms in an ancient undisturbed forest, including the trees, differ from the life forms in a forest manipulated by humans. The details are shared in these pages, but I will give you the conclusion up front: more species exist in old-growth forests than in the forests we manage for wood products, and some species exist only in older forests.

In the chapters ahead you will frequently see old-growth forests compared to managed forests, so perhaps it is useful to clarify these terms right away. The forests that have formed naturally over a long period of time with little or no disturbance we call old-growth forests. In contrast, managed forests are the result of purposeful human action. Management techniques include logging, thinning, burning, planting, and spraying. Forests can be managed in many different ways and for many different reasons, but most often they are managed to grow timber for particular wood products that result in a financial return.

Although wood is a wonderful renewable resource, and most owners of forestland are now careful to replant after harvesting, it is a misconception that typical forest management can conserve all forest biodiversity. Scientific evidence tells us otherwise. In these pages I present the evidence. The studies that enable us to challenge the misconception are sprinkled far and wide among many different journals and over many years, so I thought it helpful to compile descriptions of the studies and their results in a book. I originally intended to include only the studies done in eastern North American forests (since the western forests have been the focus of other books), and although the focus here remains on eastern forests, I soon realized that including a global perspective added depth to the evidence.

Over and over I have read or heard espoused that forests must be managed to be healthy. Perhaps forests must be managed to get the healthiest economic return, but true biological health is found in the unmanaged old-growth forests. I can say that because the scientists who have done these careful studies have offered their data to us. I also know it to be true because I have spent time in many, many old-growth forests and have heard the birdsong, witnessed the soaring canopies, and breathed the forest air.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself,” John Muir wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra, “we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The truth of this often-quoted line will be evidenced over and over again in these pages. Although each chapter has a specific topic, you will soon see that they are all, indeed, hitched together.

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