by James H. Capshew*
I started reading The Hidden Forest by Jon Luoma in December. Subtitled The Biography of an Ecosystem, the book details the history of the 16,000-acre H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and the scientists who have worked there, uncovering the roles of soils, organisms, natural events, and human impacts on a complex forest ecosystem. Set aside in 1948 as a living laboratory, Andrews is on the western side of the Cascade Range, and is administered jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State University. It became a charter member of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program in 1980, a network of two-dozen sites around the country.
During the winter break, I made arrangements to stay overnight at the Andrews forest. Although the research facility is open year-round, heavy snowfalls in the winter months close many of the access roads. There was about a foot of accumulated snow on the ground when I went, but the road was clear to facility. When I got out of my car, the sound of rushing water, peaceful yet exciting, filled the air. The music of Lookout Creek was to be my constant companion for my stay. I meet the facilities manager, who checked me into my simple apartment, and the caretaker. When the two of them left at 5:00pm, I was alone in the woods. I busied myself with some short hikes, cooking soup for my evening meal, and reading The Hidden Forest.
My reading, augmented by my first experience in the Andrews forest, compelled me to write about this wonderful Oregon State treasure. The research done at Andrews Experimental Forest led to some significant insights in forest ecology as well as providing evidence for the revision of timber management policies and practices. The eruption of Mount St. Helens, the spotted owl controversy, and the teeming life in the soil of old-growth forests are among the highlights of this absorbing study. It suggests many paper and dissertation topics.
*James H. Capshew is Gordon/Horning Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Humanities, Oregon State University.