‘Forests Adrift’

What you need to know about Northeastern forests

Forests Adrift

After a slow start, “Forests Adrift” (Yale University Press, 2020) gives a good overview of the state of our Northeastern forests. Ecologist Charles Canham brings his keen eye to what causes changes in our forests. 

I was fascinated by his chapter “The Fall and Rise of White-tailed Deer.” By the end of the 19th century there were almost no deer in the Northeast because of over-hunting and habitat loss. We’re now in a deer population explosion because of the opposite—regulated hunting and increased habitat. For forests, these extra deer mean that very few tree seedlings survive to become large trees. This barrenness could cause a crisis in the future. 


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Canham has a strong opinion about the pace of logging in our forests. Our sustainable harvests are not so, he says, especially as investment firms buy, cut and then sell huge forest properties every 10 or 15 years. He suggests that if a better system of carbon offsets is put in place it will be two to 10 times more profitable for landowners to keep their trees in the ground than to have them cut for biomass fuel.

While climate change and invasive species make it easy to be a doomsayer, Canham believes in the resilience of our Northeastern forests and the science that is helping us understand how to cope with these threats. 

— Betsy Kepes

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