Wild Earth Publication and the Old Growth Movement in the 1990's


     I  fondly recall the early years of the Wild Earth publication when I wrote a number of tree and old growth articles for that superb journal. In the early years of Wild Earth, John Davis was the editor. Tom Butler was the art director, if I recall correctly. Later when John moved on to develop funding sources,  Tom took over a editor. In those days, I had a lot of activist fire in the belly and could get preachy. John Davis coined a title for me of the East's leading old growth evangelist. I pretended to be embarrassed by the title, but secretly, I liked it. But there were many conservation missions that I supported. At one point, I was a member of 34 separate conservation organizations. I couldn't seem to say no. Overall, I regarded myself as a forest activist, but in terms of my interests, I was never anti-forestry. I had been an early admirer of the U. S. Forest Service and had been a long time member of American Forests. But during the late 1980s, when it was headed by F.  Dale Robertson, I became disillusioned with the Forest Service's turn away from custodianship. That venerable agency had embraced the notion of the forest as an outdoor tree factory. It was all about timber quotas and sales. I saw the Forest Service as abrogating its forest custodian responsibility and recognized that citizen activists were needed to rein in the timber beast mentality of the Forest Service's corrupt management structure. Smoky the Bear had run amuck.

     As a forest activist and contributor to Wild Earth, I was also an old growth sleuth - as my friend John Davis also defined me. As such, I suddenly found myself in some pretty elite company and reveled in it. On the local scene, I was locating stands of old growth in western Massachusetts right under the noses of management foresters in the Massachusetts Bureau of Forestry. How could that be happening? I wasn't a forest professional. They were the professionals, but they seemed blind to old growth characteristics. Somehow their perceptive apparatus had been numbed. They saw everything old as decrepit and in need of cutting. There were no shades of gray. It was during that period that I got an education on how people of different backgrounds see forests. Most saw them stereotypically. Years later, I later wrote an essay about seeing the forest with an attitude. It spoke directly to the myopia within the forestry and other professions. Taken as a whole, I was convinced that the honorable profession of forestry had lost perspective. Now, I don't think that was the case, I know it. The rise of the Forest Stewards Guild is an example of a small group of foresters searching for balance and the regaining of a lost forest soul.

    During the early 1990s, I wrote articles on individual tree species and on old growth definitions and identification for Wild Earth. Dave Foreman once suggested that I combine my tree articles into a book . At the time, I didn't think I was up to such an undertaking. But, now that I am retired, the urge to do such a book under the ENTS\umbrella grows stronger. Of course, I would have to rein in my inclination to swamp my readers with numbers. As we all know, that is my inclination. In addition, the Sierra Club Guide to Ancient Forests of the Northeast that Bruce and I wrote left me with little inclination to write another book. Articles, yes, a full book, probably not. But writing is in my blood and the idea is once again on the table.

     In its hay day, Wild Earth attracted many superb writers who were either distinguished scientists, naturalists, or self-taught activists/conservationists who had pulled themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps and had a lot to say. The atmosphere was heady. Upstarts such as myself had the feeling that we were accomplishing worthy goals with our articles. To be sure, it was the choir preaching to itself. But we were expressing ourselves and it felt good. I was once told that I was one of Wild Earth's most popular writers. That news left me marooned in my office for days. I couldn't get my head through the door. Joking aside, I do remember writing an article on the southern Appalachians and getting a wonderful, congratulatory letter in the mail from George Wuerthner. Evidently, I had painted a compelling picture of that most exemplary part of the Appalachian chain and made it live in a way that did it justice. At the least, the picture I painted appealed to George sufficiently for him to write me the letter. Boy, did I feel honored. This old Tennessee boy, who had also become a New Englander, felt he had found a new niche.

     Within the Forest Service, with the appearance on the scene of Jack Ward Thomas and later Michael Dombeck, the Forest Service greened up considerably and much of my time was shifted to locating pockets of old growth, principally in New England and secondarily in the southern Appalachians. I took my eye off the Forest Service ball and concentrated mainly on OG discovery and site documentation. It was from site documentation that the tree measuring gene became activated. Nobody was describing the full extent of the old growth stands and it was apparent to me that there was a lack of developed field talent in simple old growth recognition. Then, in 1992, a friend gave me the idea for a conference series to bring together scientists, resource managers, and environmentalists to share knowledge about the surviving old growth in the East. The series dovetailed nicely with the efforts of Wild Earth and Dr. Mary Byrd Davis to develop an inventory of all known old growth in the East. The rest is history. We've since had 8 conferences and 2 old growth definitions symposia. The Island Press book "Eastern Old Growth Forests - Prospects of Rediscovery and Recovery" is an outgrowth of the conference series. I could say much more about the series and will in time, but I'd like to now bring ENTS into the picture.

      In 1996, an idea that had been spawned a year or two earlier for an organization that celebrated trees , took firm root at my kitchen table in Holyoke Massachusetts, and the ENTS website was officially born. Dave Stahle and his understudy Matt Therrell were at one end of the table, Will Blozan was at the other and setting across from one another were myself and the late Dr. Michael Perlman. It all started with a bottle of Jack Daniels on the table, courtesy of Dave Stahle, who was feeling no pain at the time. But in a nutshell, Dave dedicated space on a University of Arkansas server and Matt developed the website. I established an e-mail list on  a local server in Chicopee, MA. Mass Audubon had promised us physical space at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary and had hosted the first ENTS rendezvous that attracted around 45 people.

     Well, we've come a long, long way since that beginning. Our accomplishments, as Ed Frank eloquently described at the 2006 rendezvous, have grown exponentially. Our website, courtesy of Ed, is the best in the business and now we're cooking with the Google list. Life is good.


November 2, 2007