America’s Great National Forests, Wildernesses & Grasslands is one of my favorite reference / “coffee table” books. The official description is –
For more than a century, America’s national forests have proved an environmental gift and cultural treasure, our spectacular backyard. Under the management of the U.S. Forest Service, this system of public lands encompasses 193 million acres of mountains, prairies, rivers, and canyons—much of it undiscovered, but accessible for hiking, kayaking, fishing, and winter sports. Officially published with the U.S. Forest Service, this book features the thirty most notable national forests—while also celebrating more than one hundred different national forests in forty-four states—from the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the Olympics of Washington. Unlike the national parks, Americans can use these lands for all manner of recreation, truly earning these tremendous resources the moniker of “America’s backyard.” This book is a treasure for all readers who use and cherish these lands.
In other words, it’s a giant, beautiful nature photography book that focuses on America’s National Forests rather than the more famous National Parks.
Even though our National Forests make up most of America’s public land and have some of the most scenic features, they often don’t get the press or attention of the National Parks, simply because they are also “working lands” (ie, the have a multiuse purpose that includes providing clean water, timber, and minerals, along with protecting wildlife, and providing recreation. The National Park Service’s mission is focused on preservation (i.e., keeping the land in the same condition for all generations of Americans) whereas the US Forest Service is focused on conservation (i.e., wise use of the land for the greatest benefit of the greatest number of Americans).
Either way, National Forests & Grasslands are often overlooked. They were never photographed by Ansel Adams or appear in kid’s Americana books. This book is one of the few that I’ve ever found to give a bit of attention to these amazing public lands.
What I Liked
I like the focus of the book. While the National Parks rightly get most of the attention, our National Forests & Grasslands are extremely important and necessary to our system of public lands. But since they don’t get the same love & attention from the public, they often get neglected and underfunded even more than the National Park Service does when budgets get tight. A book like this is important to provide a bit of context & connection for voters & citizens who might not plan a road trip to National Forests, but still benefit from them and want protection & funding for them.
The photography is stunning and it’s obvious that the photographer put in some work, time, and planning to get the right shots.
The text is expertly written by Char Miller, who is not only someone who knows what they are talking about, but is also able to write concise, readable text to put the photographs in context.
The geographic sampling was well-balanced. Most National Forest acreage is out West, even though the Eastern National Forests have the most people visiting them. The book does a good job including the Eastern Forests, even though they are smaller and have also been generally “re-grown” after settler use rather than never used “old growth” forest.
What I Did Not Like
I know that the book couldn’t cover all the National Forests, but I was hoping for more than just 30. Maybe the publisher will come out with a sequel.
National Forests are greatly underappreciated by the American public given all the benefits that we get from them.
The system has been bipartisan for over a century with a genius political model devised by Theodore Roosevelt (Wilderness Warrior is an excellent book to pair with this one to understand the original development of both the National Forest System and the National Wildlife Refuge System). But it’s also under constant indirect attacks & threats via lack of funding, misplaced priorities, and the lack of direction that comes with having multiple missions & uses.
The best way to support National Forests is to use them wisely and let your elected representatives know. There are also always opportunities to volunteer. Find your nearest National Forest, and I guarantee you that there will be a small, incredible group of citizens doing outsized work alongside the US Forest Service. If you are in Georgia, check out the Georgia ForestWatch.