In Earth's Undisturbed Forests, Pieces All Fit and System Works

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Thu Oct 8 00:24:08 EST 1998

The following article first appeared in The Oregonian, April 27, 1989, p E2


By KATHIE DURBIN - of The Oregonian staff

	CORVALLIS -- When Chris Maser visits an old-growth forest, he takes
time to squeeze water out of rotting wood and muck around in the fungi under
the forest floor.      Leading a tour through a stand of 400-year-old Douglas
fir and 500-year-old hemlock near Mary’s Peak recently, the 50-year-old
forest ecologist and writer pointed out the secret lairs of ambrosia beetles,
carpenter ants and clouded salamanders in the decaying logs that lay strewn
in moss-covered humps over the forest floor.   He showed off the burrow of a
chicory squirrel, the tiny hemlocks sprung from a decomposing “nurse log,”
the way fallen logs anchored the soil on a downhill slope.     Maser believes
that over millenia, nature has put together a plan that works in the
old-growth forests -- a plan that depends on allowing trees to rot peacefully
for many centuries, returning organic matter to the soil and creating diverse
arrangements in streams and estuaries.	Carpenter ants and red tree voles and
mycorrhizal fungi and spotted owls are integral parts of that plan, Maser
says. Together with many other species, they create a kind of ecological
symphony in the natural forest.        The ants invade dead trees, creating
nesting places for the rodent voles, which eat the fruiting bodies of fungi
and spread their spores, inoculating the soil and helping the trees collect
water and nutrients. The voles and other small mammals are eaten in turn by
owls nesting high in the broken tops of the trees.     When that cycle is
interrupted artificially by logging and replanting, Maser says, no one can
foretell the consequences. “We don’t know how many pieces will be missing in
managed forests.”    “This system is like a waterbed,” he said. “If you push
it down here, it comes up over there.”	Maser worked for the U.S. Bureau of
Land Management at the U.S. Forest Service’s Foerest Research Laboratory in
Corvallis until he quit 18 months ago over what he believes was political
opposition ot the direction his work was leading -- a direction that argued
strongly against most future logging in old- growth forests.	  In the
1970s, Maser was part of a team led by Jerry F. Franklin, the dean of
old-growth scientists, that did some of the first studies of old-growth
forest ecology.    In 1984, Maser and James M. Trappe, a U.S. Forest Service
mycologist, published “The Seen and Unseen World of the Fallen Tree,” which
documented the imporant role of structural and biological diversity in
old-growth forests and urged that forests be managed in a way that would
protect that diversity for future research.	  “We must not sacrifice the
options of future generations on the altar of cost-effectiveness through
decisions based on insufficient data,” Trappe and Maser wrote.	    Maser,
who now lectures, writes and serves as a consultant to forest managers around
the country, set forth his philosophy on forest management and Earth’s
natural processes in a very personal book, “The Redesigned Forest,” published
last year.    “Nature designed a forest to be a flexible, timeless
continuum,” he writes. “We are designing a forest to be a rigid,
time-constrained monoculture.”

COMMENT BY POSTER: If you don't know about mycorrhizal fungi, or wonder how
fungi, animals and plants all work together ecologically, I heartily recommend
Chris Maser's book "The Redesigned Forest." And it might change some
preconceptions. It sure changed a lot of mine.

Posted as a courtesy by:
Daniel B. Wheeler

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