Category: Book Review

Great Summer Reads: Paul Sabin’s The Bet

Looking for a good read for the 4th of July weekend? How about a great look at one of conservation’s famous debates? Marty Downs reviews Paul Sabin’s The Bet, an account of the wager between ecologist Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon.

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Great Summer Reads: Roosevelt’s Beast

Looking for a great read this summer? Author Jonathan Adams makes his recommendation, a novel based on Theodore Roosevelt’s legendary (and somewhat disastrous) trip to the “River of Doubt.” A review of Louis Bayard’s Roosevelt’s Beast.

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Review: Cristina Eisenberg’s The Carnivore Way

Can we really expect a growing population to live alongside large predators? Don’t we have a hard enough time with less dangerous critters? Cristina Eisenberg looks at the science, and lays out a blueprint for coexistence between people and predators in her new book, The Carnivore Way.

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Is Natural History Still Relevant for Conservation Science?

As conservation science increasingly draws from sophisticated models and genomics, does natural history still have relevance? Benjamin Kilham, a dyslexic who has made significant contributions to bear research, builds a powerful case for field observation in his book, “Out on a Limb.”

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Cool Green Review: The Drunken Botanist

Raise a glass to the diverse plants behind every glass of beer, wine and bourbon! A New Year’s Eve review of Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist. Enjoy responsibly!

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Tracks and Shadows: The Best Conservation Book in 64 Years?

Conservancy chief scientist Peter Kareiva reviews Harry Greene’s new book Tracks and Shadows, calling it perhaps “the best conservation love poem ever written.”

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Cool Green Review: John Waldman’s Running Silver

John Waldman sees ghosts — migratory fish ghosts, that is. And they’re everywhere. A review of his new book, Running Silver: Restoring Atlantic Rivers and Their Great Fish Migrations.

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Cool Green Review: Spine of the Continent, Imperial Dreams

Welcome to Cool Green Review, our monthly look at notable conservation science books. This month: Mary Ellen Hannibal’s The Spine of the Continent and Tim Gallagher’s Imperial Dreams.

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Book Week: ‘Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty’

Nature Conservancy senior social scientist Craig Leisher reviews “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.

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Book Week: ‘Field Notes on Science and Nature’

Peer over the shoulder of noted field biologists in this engaging collection of essays on the science — and art — of note taking. And you might just become a better writer, and better scientist, in the process.

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Book Week: John Graves’ ‘Goodbye to a River’

Next up for book week: Senior freshwater scientist Jeff Opperman reviews John Graves’ canoeing classic, Goodbye to a River.

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Book Week: Magnus Nilsson’s ‘Faviken’

Cool Green Science Book Week continues with science writer Matt Miller’s review of a most unusual cookbook, Magnus Nisson’s Faviken. Follow Nilsson’s advice and you’ll know how to prepare lichens, thoughtfully peel a carrot and shoot grouse. And you’ll have fun.

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Book Week: Jon Mooallem’s ‘Wild Ones’

Cool Green Science Book Week kicks off with Peter Kareiva’s review of Jon Mooallem’s book on people’s relationships with nature, and “the way we can straddle despair and hope as we work to secure a future for a species whose habitat is dwindling.”

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Review: When Conservation is Successful (Too Successful)

Deerland: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness. By Al Cambronne. Lyons Press, 2013. 264 pages.

Last week’s wildlife news brought a familiar parade of depressing subjects: Poachers killed more rhinos, this time at Ol Pejeta Ranch, a reserve specifically fenced and fortified to protect the animals from this fate. Seventy percent of forest elephants have been killed  in the past ten years, and conservationists are finding gruesome scenes of slaughtered herds. And on, and on.

Then a completely different wildlife story came across my desk,  Al Cambronne’s well-reported Deerland. In contrast to the stories of rhinos and forest elephants, Cambronne’s book is about a seemingly hopeless wildlife situation that turned into a wildly successful conservation story.

Perhaps, as it turns out, too successful.

Deerland is about the white-tailed deer, yet another of those North American species that we take for granted today, forgetting a century ago the species was facing similar perils to orangutans today.

Whitetails were slaughtered for their hides and meat. Their forest habitat was logged and leveled. Deer, it appeared, were on their way out.

However, white-tailed deer were more adaptable than many conservationists believed. Given legal protection and effective law enforcement, together with the reforestation of logged habitat, deer populations began rebounding.

And thrived: Today there are more than 100 times more whitetails than a century ago. Think we can’t save declining large wildlife species? Maybe we should look to the whitetail.

Conservationists today are fond of talking about building constituencies. Cambronne argues that no wildlife species has a more effective constituency than the whitetail: an active force of advocates in the form of deer hunters, deer feeders and people who just love having large animals around.

And what about science? White-tailed deer are arguably the most studied wildlife species on the planet, with more 3,260 peer-reviewed papers published on the species between 1985 and 2010.

Policy, constituency, science, measurable success: Everything conservation needs, all working exactly as planned.

And yet, as Cambronne vividly portrays, the white-tailed deer conservation effort has become too much of a good thing, creating a host of new problems in its wake.

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Review: Two from Tibet

Tibet Wild: A Naturalist’s Journeys on the Roof of the World. By George B. Schaller. Island Press, 2012. 372 pages. 

“I am less a modern field biologist devoted to technology and statistics than a nineteenth century naturalist who with paper and pencil describes nature in detail,” writes George Schaller in his latest book, Tibet Wild.

And, indeed, no one can accuse Schaller of being a lab- or desk-bound scientist: Few have spent more time among the large, wild beasts. He’s studied Serengeti’s lions, India’s tigers and Brazil’s jaguars. He’s lived with gorillas and tracked snow leopards in the Himalayas. He led one of the first comprehensive studies of giant panda habitat and conservation.

But perhaps his most important work has been his three decades of research in the Tibetan Plateau, a remote region little known to most outsiders (including many wildlife enthusiasts). He first began exploring the region seeking the migration route of the chiru, a little-known antelope species that embarks on one of the great seasonal mammal movements in the world.

Schaller’s search for chiru reads like adventure from an earlier time—with horrible weather, impassable routes and dead ends galore. He and his teammates persevere and map the migration through one of Asia’s wildest regions.

However, he has never been content to merely record biological detail; he has been a fierce advocate for conservation throughout his career. As a biologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera, he uses the information gathered to inform plans for protected areas and community-based conservation projects.

Over the decades, Schaller has witnessed alarming changes in Tibet. For millennia, nomadic herders and huge herds of grazing wildlife thrived together on the grasslands. But that deep relationship has been changing, fast. In part, that can be traced to the end of nomadic traditions. Herders have been encouraged (or forced) to settle, which means their livestock is fenced to one patch of land, leading to overgrazing, wildlife conflicts and economic hardship.

Schaller details a distressing list of problems facing plateau wildlife: fences, poaching, the slaugher of antelopes for fashion, corrupt trophy hunting programs, the poisoning of pikas, mining, roads and more.

He remains optimistic, though, that by involving local people in conservation programs that benefit them, the great herds, large predators and productive grasslands can once again thrive.

Tibet Wild is one of Schaller’s best works, combining wild adventure with insightful recommendations for people and nature. And it demonstrates why “old-fashioned” field biology is still an essential part of conservation, and of science.

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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

2. Blog with astonishing photos, videos and dispatches of Nature Conservancy science in the field.

3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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