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The best environmental books we’ve read in 2018

This is our third year of recapping the best books we’ve read over the past year.

Here are the 2017 and 2016 lists.

We’re so glad that the number of both readers and reviewers of EcoLit Books have grown enough to now have an annual tradition of celebrating our favorite books of the year.

And this is indeed something to celebrate because there were some amazing environmental and animal-themed books published over the past year, and these aren’t necessarily the books you’ll see on more mainstream “best of the year” lists. 

But these books are, in our humble opinion, some of the more important books of the year. Tackling topics that range from rethinking farming practices to how to coexist with wildlife in urban areas to our evolving relationship with the land and its many creatures.

I hope you enjoy the list. Thanks so much to our readers — and especially our contributors — for making EcoLit Books an online hub for eco-literature. Here’s to another year of reading like you give a damn.

Jacki Skole

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee 

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee is a riveting account of the life and untimely death of O-Six, Yellowstone’s most famous wolf. It is also the story of humanity’s timeless attempt to bend nature to its will, no matter the cost.

Rising by Elizabeth Rush

Rising by Elizabeth Rush takes readers on a graphic tour of U.S. coastal communities grappling with the devastating effects of climate change. From Maine to Miami, the Gulf Coast to the Bay Area, Rush reveals how lives, livelihoods, and entire ecosystems are undergoing irrevocable changes that are destined to leave many of these communities uninhabitable. It is not an uplifting read, but it is an important one.  

Midge Raymond

Clean Meat by Paul Shapiro. 2017.

While the notion of “cultured meat” or “lab-grown” meat may sound odd to many, Paul Shapiro’s book makes the case for why this new industry is among our best hopes for, quite literally, saving the world….Clean Meat should be read by anyone who cares about the planet, but most of all by those who currently eat and wear animals the way these products are made today. This book provides a detailed, well-rounded examination of a new industry that highlights the challenges — and the incredible possibilities — of feeding and clothing us all in an increasingly populated and demanding world. 

Heather Taft

Reflecting on the environmental books I’ve read this year, two really stand out to me. My first recommendation is a children’s book I read this summer for 8-11 year olds called Poacher Panic by Jan Burchett and Sara Vogler, illustrated by Diane Le Feyer.

This book focuses on the rescue of a wild tiger in Sumatra and her two cubs that are set to be taken by poachers once the cubs are old enough to leave their mom. Ben and Zoey work to track down the tigers, while they try to figure out who the poachers are, so they can rescue the tigers before the poachers get to them first. Their research also teaches them about the trafficking of wildlife and animals parts. The book is written at an appropriate level for children. It is also the first book in the Wild Rescue series, so there are more books focused on other species and wildlife issues around the world to choose from if your child likes this one.

Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil & the Future of Africa’s Big Cats by Andrew Loveridge

Clearly I have a passion for big cats. As a conservation biologist I knew trophy hunting had devastating effects on lion prides in Africa. This book explained the nature of lion prides and the impact of losing males over and over again, leading to decreasing pride sizes. I also was not aware of the extent of government involvement in trophy hunting and the impact this can have on a researcher trying to save the lions they are using to make money. It was a very interesting and informative read for me.

John Yunker

Where Song Began: Australia’s Birds and How They Changed the World by Tim Low

Thanks to DNA, we now know that Australia is the wellspring of the planet’s songbirds. And it wasn’t until the second half of the last century that Australians themselves began to appreciate that songbirds evolved in their backyards. And it’s not only songbirds that Australia gave the word but parrots.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

When we started EcoLit Books five years ago, this was the type of book I had in mind. A novel that places nature in its proper place in relation to people. That is, above us — in this case, both figuratively and literally. In The Overstory, Richard Powers has crafted an epic novel that stretches hundreds of years, culminating in a series of life-and-death environmental battles. But even more so, this is a novel about rediscovering the largest and oldest living creatures on our planet.

The Center for Humans and Nature

Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman, Chelsea Green Publishing 

Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Environmental Wisdom in Children’s Literature by Liam Heneghan, University of Chicago Press

Rust Belt Arcana: Tarot and Natural History in the Exurban Wilds by Matt Stansberry, Belt Publishing

This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent by Daegan Miller, University of ChicagoPress

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush, Milkweed Editions

The Overstory: A Novel by Richard Powers, W.W. Norton

Food from the Radical Center. Healing Our Land and Communities by Gary Paul Nabhan, Island Press

Wildly Successful Farming Sustainability and the New Agricultural Land Ethic by Brian DeVore, University of Wisconsin Press

The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen, Simon & Schuster

Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World by Marcia Bjornerud, Princeton University Press

 Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology by Lisa Margonelli, Farrar, Strauss Giroux

New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle, Verso

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, Verso, 2018

The Way of Coyote: Shared Journeys in the Urban Wilds by Gavin Van Horn, University of Chicago Press

Frog Pond Philosophy: Essays on the Relationship between Humans and Nature by Strachan Donnelley, edited by Ceara Donnelley and Bruce Jennings, University Press of Kentucky


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Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America

After finishing Wolf Haven I went straight to the Internet and looked up Wolf Haven International.

I had been aware of the California Wolf Center, located outside San Diego, but was not aware of Wolf Haven, located just south of Mt. Rainier. And now I can’t wait to visit.

But make no mistake; this is no petting zoo. In fact, the sanctuary goes to great lengths to keep many of the wolves far away from people so they stand a better chance of survival when they are introduced back into the wild. Just last month a number of Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into northern Mexico after having spent time at Wolf Haven.

Approximately 200 of the Wolf Haven residents are forever residents; either captive bred or simply unable to survive on their own, Wolf Haven gives these animals some much-deserved peace. I wish I could say that the underlying message of this book will bring the reader peace, but the sad truth is that there is war on wolves, one that began a long time ago.

It’s estimated that when European settlers first made their way across North America that there were more than two million wolves here. But when settlers imported cows and sheep and steadily moved west, wolves soon focused their energies on these animals. Before long, the war on wolves had begun.

In about a hundred years wolves declined to as few as 1,500 animals. The eastern Red Wolf is still on the edge of regional extinction, along with the Mexican gray wolf in the United States.

Here in Oregon, few issues agitate animal lovers more than the plight of wolves. As Wolf Haven notes, our governor Kate Brown (despite the fact that she claims to care about the environment) allowed the wolf to be removed from the protected list. Apparently the government believes that a few dozen wolves constitutes “enough” wolves in this state. And now, tragically, their numbers will dwindle again as hunters and ranchers go after them.

With this in mind, the book Wolf Haven is a fitting tribute to a wolf sanctuary that is doing its part to protect these species.

If the measurement of a successful book is inciting someone to action, then Wolf Haven certainly qualifies. It has inspired me to give to this organization and one day make the trip up north to visit.

And to also remind our governor that wolves do matter to many residents of Oregon.

Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America

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Book Review — Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country

collared

Wolves–will they ever cease to create controversy and incite emotion? After all, they are just another four-legged, fur-covered predator–powerful, but certainly not the “beast of waste and desolation,” that Teddy Roosevelt called them. Hopefully, the time will come when our biases become obsolete and people accept Canis lupus as the survivors they are. But we are still light years away from this understanding.

Which, in a sense is OK, because if wolves weren’t such a love ‘em or loath ‘em species, people would probably stop writing about them. And we wouldn’t have books like Aime Lyn Eaton’s Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country to enjoy.

Eaton does an admirable job of representing both sides in the proverbial wolf wars. She includes comments from wolf advocacy groups including Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, Big Wildlife, and Northeast Oregon Ecosystems. Their sentiments express the belief that the wolf is valuable to our ecosystem and should be protected.

And from the other side, Eaton offers a voice for Oregon ranchers, a group that tends to express regret that wolves ever returned to Oregon. Eaton spends time with livestock producers in the northeast corner of the state and we sense her sympathies for the added element of hardship wolves can add to a rancher’s already difficult life.

Collared also reveals the workings of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), especially Russ Morgan, the state’s Wolf Coordinator. Caught in the middle, the ODFW must manage Canis lupus while surrounded by a culture fed on misinformation about the species. The pressure of Morgan’s position comes clear as Eaton sits beside him in his pickup truck, watching Morgan who “…seems to have a weariness that goes beyond not getting enough sleep.”

Eaton provides an in-depth review of the Oregon Wolf Plan (OWP), the people behind it, and the changes made to the plan. She takes us to the first gathering of the Wolf Advisory Committee held in 2003, and none of the tension of that meeting is lost in the retelling. The book includes an addendum that explains the July, 2013 revamping of the OWP, which directs in detail how livestock depredations are handled. This is an innovative document, one that sets Oregon apart from other states by allowing lethal removal of wolves only as a last resort. Under the new guidelines, livestock owners must demonstrate the use of non-lethal measures before the state will step in and kill predating wolves. And wolves now have four strikes, meaning they are allowed four qualifying incidents of livestock injury or death within a six month period before the ODFW will remove the offending animals.

Collared is a slim book, but then Oregon’s current wolf saga is also slim. The last of our original wolves was killed in 1947. Fifty-two years later, a wolf wandered to Oregon from Idaho. She was hastily caught and returned. But more followed and according to the ODFW, at the end of 2012 there were at least 46 wolves in six packs. All are in the northeast section of Oregon, except for Journey, the legendary wandering wolf who is now camped out in the southwestern part of the state.

Collared is a book for hard-core wolf enthusiasts, those who want all the details. Yet despite the scholarly bent of this book it is a captivating read. Eaton’s seamless writing takes us into all aspects of the wolf issue, from a hash brown scented diner where she meets with a rancher, to the Eagle Cap Wilderness where Eaton and Roblyn Brown, ODFW Assistant Wolf Coordinator, track a newly discovered pack of wolves. Her forays into the wilderness in search of wolves are some of the most memorable parts of the book.

It stands to reason that there should be a sequel to Collared (perhaps Uncollared?) as the Oregon wolf population increases and disperses into the Cascades and elsewhere. By the time this occurs, perhaps there will be less need to micro-manage the species. But the need will continue unless we change. As Eaton writes, “The wolves are just being wolves.” And Russ Morgan’s wise response to this comment is, “Yeah, it’s the people that are the challenge.”

Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country
Author: Aimee Lyn Eaton
Publisher: Oregon State University Press

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