NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Myth Old Growth Forests

March 29, 1997

Observers say the World Resources Institute (WRI) is misguided in its efforts to save the "frontier forests" -- the newest name for what has been called "wilderness," "old growth," "ancient forests" or "pre-settlement conditions."

The WRI characterizes frontier forests as "undisturbed, original forest cover, relatively unmanaged by humans" in need of saving before totally disappearing. The WRI says less than 1 percent of America's frontier forests remain, in areas "too isolated to support populations of some of their large mammal species over time."

But environmental critics say science has proven these claims about the primeval forest false again and again:

  • "Original" forests never existed, since landscapes change constantly; for instance, the so-called ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest developed relatively recently.
  • Forests aren't shrinking; forested land in the world is nearly three times the area of land in cultivation and is slowly increasing in developed countries.
  • Few forests have ever been undisturbed, but they need the stress of change in order to maintain adaptability.-- in America Indians changed the forests by planting and cutting, created grasslands, disrupted wildlife and built extensive earthworks and settlements.
  • And as for the mammals, no large North American mammal has become extinct in 10,000 years.

Critics say efforts such as the Frontier Forest Initiative are based on the myth of a Golden Age -- perfect and unchanging until man came along -- handed down from the Greeks. Such myths have been used in other societies to perpetuate control by a social elite, and some observers suggest environmental myths perform the same role today.

Source: Alston Chase, "Reinventing Green Myths," Washington Times, March 29, 1997.


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