This is the book that I was hoping would get published. Outdoor writing & media is dominated by (rightly so) by America’s National Parks.
They are familiar, popular, and truly hard to over-hype. However, America’s largest segment of public lands are our National Forests.
Unlike National Parks, which are focused on preservation, National Forests are public lands dedicated to conservation. In practice, that means that they have lots of different uses, from extreme wilderness recreation to oil & gas drilling to industrial logging to wildlife conservation to water supply to snow skiing to mining and so much else.
So even though most Americans have been to and enjoyed a National Forest, it’s very hard to communicate exactly what they are.
And that’s where Our National Forests by Greg Peters comes in. The book is a wonderful collection of photos, essays, and stories explaining what they National Forests are; how they came to be; and what they represent for us moving into the future.
What I Liked
I love that this book exists now. There really isn’t anything like it. There’s one other coffee-table reference book by Char Miller that I like. And there are plenty of academic-focused non-fiction books. But there’s no pop non-fiction specifically about National Forests until this book.
The photos are amazing and set a great scene about what our National Forests protect.
I like how the author deep-dives into the bigger picture purposes of the National Forests that provided the political capital for their establishment –
- providing a perpetual & continuous water supply to America’s cities & farms.
- providing America with a perpetual & forever sort of “emergency supply” of timber, minerals, land, and open space.
But he also brings contrasts those big picture purposes with the day to day purposes that everyday Americans know & love –
- providing large scale habitat for wildlife along with open access to hunting & fishing for all Americans
- providing public access to all forms of outdoor recreation for no fees or restrictions
- providing industry & ranchers cheap access to sustainable natural resources like grazing, mining, gas extraction, etc
- providing the space & scale for establishment of Congressionally-designated Wilderness areas that protect a world apart from our hyper-modern, industrialized society
I loved how the writing was accessible, engaging, and structured. I could tell that he did a lot of thinking & planning around structuring the book.
What I Didn’t Like
While I appreciated the author’s personal experience with the National Forests, I think he could have shifted to the background a bit more. There were sections of the book where he made it more about himself than the topic at hand. But, this is a small quibble overall.
I could write for hours about the National Forests. But here’s a couple takeaways.
First, our National Forests are unique and incredible, but also so big and complex that they are hard to understand. When something is hard to understand, it’s harder to protect.
Second, National Forests are protected by lots of everyday citizens using, advocating, and being involved in their management. National Forests are not natural; they are a human creation and take human work to keep them around.
Third, there are lots of opportunities to get involved. Visit places in your nearest National Forest – visitation numbers drive political support. Contact your local representatives about your support.
Find local organizations working with the Forest Service. I’m a member of Georgia ForestWatch, which helps out on the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest along with the Wilderness Land Trust, which helps the Forest Service acquire small inholdings in Wilderness areas.