Book Review: Journeys Through Eastern Old-Growth Forests a narrative guide by Jamie Simpson

Written by Bob Bancroft on July 29, 2014

Simpson_bookJamie Simpson’s second book takes readers on a series of excursions to 17 old-growth forests that remain in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The sites have varying, well-profiled Acadian forest attributes that Simpson neatly fits into a wider picture of ecologically-healthy forest functions. Sufficient directions are given for readers to visit these places. At face value, that’s the book. Dig deeper and one finds ecological undertones that may well make this a forest classic.


Simpson’s writing style seems simple and conversational. He applies science in such a manner that most folks will understand, but few will notice that it is science. A turn in a trail, a stroke of the paddle, or an encounter with one of nature’s facets can be a launching pad for investigating aspects of the Acadian forest ecosystem. In keeping with Aldo Leopold’s thought (I paraphrase) that the first rule of intelligent tinkering should be to save all the pieces, Simpson examines piece after piece, offering hints of position and function within nature’s real estate. His presentation slips together a gradual accumulation of science into the forest forays that assemble as pieces of an ecological jigsaw puzzle.

The contrasts between old growth forests and degraded forest sites and soils that remain after hundreds of years of excessive plundering by single-purpose companies are well documented. The stark realities of current clearcutting practices on forest landscapes are described in Chapter 5. Simpson has blunt assessments concerning the lack of political will and an absence of long-term foresight to halt this forest degradation. He aptly corners the jobs-versus-environment attitudes that are rampant politically. Simpson enlists provocative quotes from forest ecologists like Bernd Heinrich, who defines tree plantations as “permanent deforestation.”

This book will interest people who like woodlands and sense that clearcuts are too drastic, but lack the scientific understanding to back up their hunch. Like the tobacco lobby, forest science has its share of industry-funded academics who blur realities and pounce upon any who question the ecological ramifications of clearcutting. The forest sites left after private profiteering efforts in this book serve as stark contrast to Simpson’s old growth journeys.

Journeys Through Eastern Old-Growth Forests should prompt woodland owners to consider the original forest composition on their property, and to begin using a forest ecosystem classification approach in their forest management. With this book Simpson makes a solid case that working with rather than overwhelming nature would bring better dividends to all species who depend on eastern forests.

Bob Bancroft is a biologist, conservationist and writer based in Pomquet, Nova Scotia. He has served as the Chair of the NS Section of the Canadian Institute of Forestry and as the President of the Nova Forest Alliance. Bancroft published “Wild Nova Scotia” in 2007.

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