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Books in Mind: "American Canopy," reviewed by Scott Howson
"Plank roads"--literally boards on the ground--stretched one board at a time for hundreds of miles. Railroads depended on wood for cars, trestle bridges, and millions of crossties, and for many years wood was the primary fuel for steam locomotives.
All of the world's first generation of aircraft were made of American Sitka spruce. The first cars were built on wooden frames. Wood has been essential, throughout our history, to our ability to move people and things from place to place and to shelter them where they settled. That's really something.
While trees were playing a vital and direct part in the westward development of our continent, America began to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the part forests played in national life. In the early years, forests were thought of only as an endless supply of trees. Over time, and usually in small steps, Americans have come to see forests as environmentally and psychologically important living organisms.
PROTECTING THE TREASURE
At the close of the 19th century, as the depletion of the virgin forests became obvious, popular support grew for government action to protect what remained. The creation of the National Park and National Forest systems consisted of clumsy, fitful, and politically cantankerous efforts that stretched over decades into the early 20th century.
A decade and a half later, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt placed a great deal of political and financial capital in the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps. This massive program planted 2 billion trees, reclaimed extensive natural watersheds, built fire roads and shelters, and probably saved our public woodlands. National policy on forest management has taken a long time to mature, but it has provided what seems to be a successful approach.
Looking back, it is easy to see the progression in American thinking about trees. Our concept of how we should treat forests is, obviously, vastly different from that of our forefathers. The early settlers could not have possibly imagined the amount of money and manpower our generation spends on protecting forests. Conversely, we could not possibly imagine what it feels like to stumble upon an endless supply of wood. But what we would both recognize is the ongoing conflict between those who see