Douglas Fir: The Story of the West’s Most Remarkable Tree – Stephen F. Arno & Carl E. Fiedler,

Douglas Fir


A broad study of the Douglas Fir, including its range, history, uses, and ecology.


As a certified tree hugger, it behooves me to know something about the plants I get up close and personal with, including the trees that grow right outside my house, and that make up much of the Oregon forest. A family member gave me this book, and both thought it would be interesting. That’s partly true.

The book is co-written by Stephen Arno and Carl Fiedler, and it’s clearly early on that one of them loves the Douglas fir and the other isn’t so keen on it. The first couple of chapters are a little divided as a result. They’re also very, very dry, and I’m not sure the authors made the right – if logical – decision by starting in with classification and phenotype. It’s obviously useful to ensure that we understand which tree we’re discussing and where it grows, but it’s just not very interesting – though I was surprised to find that ‘Douglas fir’ is a misnomer, and this isn’t a type of fir – not really a fir at all.

Happily, the book improves in later chapters as it digs into the history of the Douglas fir and how it’s been used over time, including some fairly surprising shipments, as the lumber turned out be strong and durable across a range of climates, and especially suited for ship building.

There’s a lot of factual and historical information, but in some ways, that’s all a cover for the last chapter in the book, which turns out to be a treatise on fire management techniques. To my mind – based on the information in the book itself – it goes a little overboard on the benefits of Native American fire setting, while recognizing that some of those fires got out of control just as modern ones do (though usually on a smaller scale). Overall, though, it’s a cogent argument about the need for change in the Forest Service and a rationale for learning from short and long-term fire history and management.

It’s a fairly short read, so if you’re genuinely interested in one of the Pacific Northwest’s key local tree species, trudge through the first chapters to enjoy and learn from the later ones. It’s informational and educational, if not always riveting.

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