Author and natural historian, Daniel Mathews, draws attention to the alarming plight of the conifer forests of the dry American West, from British Columbia to New Mexico. He discusses the intertwined causes of the forests’ decline including fire, pests, diseases, and drought, all made more devastating by global warming and misguided management practices of the past. While acknowledging that the forests of the future will be different from those of the past, Mathews is hopeful that in the future we can optimize forest cover where possible through big changes in attitudes and forest management techniques. This, of course, will not be popular or easy, but lies within our grasp.
The text present information on wildfire issues such as prescribed burning, bark beetles, and white pine blister rust, through accounts of visits to endangered sites where scientific researches are investigating the problems and formulating possible solutions. We learn about the Great Basin bristlecone pines that have survived everything the environment has thrown at them for 5,000 years, the tree ring analysis used to reveal the severity of past spring and fall fires, and the evidence from packrat nest middens to determine species composition and fire frequency of sites. All of this carefully presented material is written in a very readable style and is enhanced by beautiful sketches of the various trees that are the concern of the book. Mathew’s work brings awareness to a problem that affects a large and important resource in our country and, hopefully, will help bring about needed changes.