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Reviewed by:
  • The Greening of the South
  • Martha E. Geores
The Greening of the South Thomas D. Clark . University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1984, reprint 2004. 168 pp., photographs. $19.95 paper. (ISBN 0-8131-9082-7)

The Greening of the South is an apt metaphor for this historic account of the deforestation, then reforestation of the South. It follows the processes of denuding the landscape for agriculture or lumbering, the ravages of nature to the exposed land, and the establishment of tree plantations through private and public means. Look at the photographs first to orient yourself in time and to get an initial overview of the enormous magnitude of the problem. There are no maps in the book, so if you are not a native Southerner, you might want to also look at an atlas to orient yourself in space, because both space and time are of paramount importance. The book was originally published in 1984, but was recently reprinted in paperback.

In the preface, Clark reveals the purpose for the book. It is not an environmental history and it is "not a history of southern lumber industry," it is "an attempt to give some degree of historical perspective to a tremendously important phase of changing resource management in the South" (p. xiv). Within these parameters, it is an important work in the environmental and historic fields. Clark's own history as a native of the South, user of timberland, and witness to many of the processes described, gives a unique perspective that greatly enriches the work.

Clark organizes the forested-deforested-forested and controlled deforestation/ forestation into first, second, and third forests. Another way of expressing the change over time is: from plantation (cotton) to plantation (pine). The first forest existed in the "inexhaustible timber era." Clearly the attitude of inexhaustibility of timber was a major contributing factor to destruction of the "first forest." No care [End Page 289] was taken to maintain forests. He has strong views about wasting timber and his impatience with landowners who waste timber resources is evident. Phrases like "ignorant woods-dwelling cracker" and "the dullest and most indifferent voter" pepper the text. Even acknowledging the reasons for the deforestation, such as agricultural clearing, and clear-cutting for timber and wood products, Clark sees no excuse for the shortsighted behavior that led to destruction of the forest and extreme degradation of the land.

The second forest era started with the Weeks Act (1911) authorizing federal purchase of degraded land in order to restore it to usefulness. There was no shortage of qualified land. Tree planting by the Civilian Conservation Corps, research into new ways of processing paper and the development of new wood products, and the purchase of land by big paper companies all created a demand for more trees. The second forest was intentionally created to meet these needs. Harvest of this forest was slowed by the depression, with the favorable result of keeping the landscape forested.

The third forest is what we see today, largely plantation forests. Harvest is closely followed by tree planting, the species of trees planted are extremely limited, and paper mills have become the dominant industrial landscape. Is it better? The landscape is green, the money is green, but there are costs. Clark notes that pine plantations create areas of limited biodiversity, and ownership of the plantations is concentrated in large companies. Science has found a use for nearly every part of the pine tree, from logs to pulp. Harvesting trees through clear-cutting and removing litter is efficient for manufacturing, but it impoverishes the soil as well as the rest of the environment.

A theme that Clark follows throughout the book is the role of fire in forests. From the beginning of the first forest, until the industrialization of forests of the present, fire has been a concern. Clark's treatment of fire is extremely negative. He recognizes the reasons for fires, yet he discounts them, treating fire as a scourge. In agricultural societies throughout the world, fire is used for preparation of the soil and a way to clear land. Fires cause damage, but there is no appreciation for fire's positive aspects. Even...


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