cover image The Ghost Forest: Racists, Radicals, and Real Estate in the California Redwoods

The Ghost Forest: Racists, Radicals, and Real Estate in the California Redwoods

Greg King. PublicAffairs, $32 (480p) ISBN 978-1-5417-6867-3

The lumber industry, abetted by the government, reaped massive profits while ravaging California’s redwood forests, according to journalist King’s damning debut. King describes how the large-scale clearing of redwoods began after 1878, when lumber companies abused a federal law meant to transfer publicly owned land to homesteaders and seized millions of acres of forest at prices far below market rate. Decrying government officials who have enabled the forests’ destruction, King criticizes the California Department of Forestry’s pro-business slant (since its establishment in 1973, it has argued on numerous occasions that clearing land is somehow good for wildlife) and the Board of Forestry’s toothless statutes that create the illusion of environmental protections while permitting deforestation to continue. The author focuses much of his ire on the Save the Redwoods League, formed in 1918 by prominent eugenicists as an ostensible conservation group that instead covertly worked to further industry interests, constituting “the nation’s first and most successful example of... ‘greenwashing.’ ” King’s dogged research turns up the closed-door deals and nefarious legal schemes that led to the destruction of 96% of redwood forests, providing a disturbing chronicle of how lumber companies flouted laws and came out on top. The result is a sobering accounting of the forces environmentalists are up against. (June)