Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide by Chandra LeGue. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books, 2019.
As a reviewer, I first must declare my biases. Most obviously, I’m terminally biased for Oregon’s ancient forests. I’m also biased for Oregon Wild, the organization that sponsored this book and with which I’ve had a more-than-four-decade association. I’m also a great fan of the author, Chandra LeGue (Fig. 1), Oregon Wild’s western Oregon field coordinator (a post created in 1976 that I filled until around 1981). Chandra is among the finest of the fine staff of Oregon Wild who are carrying on the epic struggles to keep Oregon wild.
While lots of serviceable hiking guides to Oregon’s wild trails exist, this one focuses on old forests. Oregon Wild popularized the term ancient forests ca. 1984, when the organization was known as the Oregon Natural Resources Council (ONRC). We didn’t like the term old-growth forests as old was oppositional to our youth-worshiping culture and, as a noun, growth was something to be removed by a surgeon. We knew we needed a new term and had narrowed it down to two. Hearkening back to the first stanza of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie (1847), I favored primeval forest.
THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
James Monteith, ONRC’s executive director and my alter ego, favored ancient forest. He, a biologist, not a poet, won the contest by noting that (1) primeval was an archaic word that could be interpreted by the unpoetic as prime evil; and (2) ancient was one letter shorter and more likely to fit in a newspaper headline. The timber industry protested loudly to headline writers and others that forests should be called ancient only if they fit the definition of one of its meanings, “of or relating to the historical period beginning with the earliest known civilizations and extending to the fall of the western Roman Empire in a.d. 476.” This didn’t help their case, as a few stands of Pacific Northwest forest have been undisturbed since 476, something we noted.
Oregon’s Ancient Forests: A Hiking Guide was inspired by and is the successor to A Walking Guide to Oregon’s Ancient Forests by the late great Wendell Wood, who was the second to occupy the chair of Oregon Wild’s western Oregon field coordinator. The new version of the book has maps in full color, ably prepared by Erik Fernandez, Oregon Wild’s cartographer and wilderness program manager. Also in color are the book’s many photographs (many by the author), prohibitively expensive a generation ago. The new book also gives GIS coordinates.
Ninety-one hikes—categorized into fourteen geographic regions (Map 1) and distinguished by distance, difficulty, forest type (Map 2), and other features—are the heart of the book. Some of the hikes are in protected areas such as wildernesses and national monuments, while others are in areas in need of permanent congressional protection for this and future generations.
The book’s foreword is by Sean Stevens, Oregon Wild’s executive director, who has successfully piloted the organization since 2007 (doing a far better job than I ever did). Sean notes:
Just after the original [Wendell’s] Ancient Forests guide was published, the landmark Northwest Forest Plan was enacted [and soon followed by comparable protection for Oregon’s forests not in the range of the northern spotted owl], stemming the tide of old-growth clear-cutting in Oregon. Much has changed in Oregon since then. The state’s population has ballooned by over one million people, many of whom are drawn here by the outdoor beauty. But new and old residents alike and visitors of all ages may have little understanding of the sometimes precarious protections that exist for the wild places they have come to love. There is a hunger for outdoor recreation information and a need to accompany those resources with a conservation ethic. I am so happy that Chandra took on the task to fill this void.
Before you get to the hikes in Part II, Part I offers brief histories and geographies of Oregon’s ancient forests as well as describing a hoped-for future. You’ll also find an illustrated treatment of ancient forest ecology, including major forest types. Even if you think you know your ancient forests, you’ll learn a lot.
Chandra closes her introduction with this:
This book offers context and basic information about Oregon’s remaining ancient forests. It looks at the pieces of the forest that make it whole and how forests differ across the state. It helps you visit the remaining ancient forests in Oregon so that you can experience the peace, the shades of green, the moist forest floor, and the awe of being dwarfed by a giant that these forests offer. Most importantly, it aims to inspire you to take action—to help preserve these places before they disappear entirely and to help shape a future where we are all richer for having done so.
Buy the book.
Go take a hike.
Demand congressional protection.