LIFE ON THE EDGE
The joke is that
California went from barbarism to decadence without passing through
civilization. A new book demonstrates otherwise. Life on the Edge:
A Guide to California's Endangered Natural Resources is a rarity: a
work of coffee-table beauty and quality that tells a wonderful,
although heartbreaking, story. It is a story of a state whose flag,
apparently with no ironic intent, shows a grizzly bear: an animal
that has been killed off within its 150,000 square miles. It is a
state blessed with incredible biological diversity, thanks to the
isolation provided by the Sierra Nevada range, whose residents then
set about introducing exotic species, destroying the diversity.
But it is also a state that over the past few
decades has become more civilized, more aware of what has been lost
and what is on the edge of being lost. This book is a step toward
preservation and restoration of what is not irrevocably
Life on the Edge is filled with
breathtaking photos of the California landscape and its endangered
and threatened fauna (a companion book on flora is planned). Some
of the best photos and drawings are historic: two children dwarfed
by a dead condor; game hunters with mountains of shot animals or
caught fish; a whale being hauled out of the water at Monterey; a
cartoon of whales holding a banquet to celebrate the rise of the
oil industry (which the artist thought would save the animals); and
a drawing of the invertebrate family tree: the "little things that
run the world."
The beauty is made intelligible
by essays and interviews on wildlife species, on diversity and the
threats to diversity, on bioregions, on human impacts, on water
projects and on other subjects.
Some essays and
interviews are workaday. But some glitter as sharply as the photos.
Biologist Lloyd Kiff says that there is no reason condors can't
come back; the habitat is there, and condors share with humans the
same fundamental need - for open space. Another biologist, Peter
Moyle, charts just how quickly the conservation ethic in California
"I took a job at
Fresno State in 1969 and started going out and looking for native
fishes. There was hardly anything written about them at all ...
Soon I was presenting my results at local fisheries meetings. I was
regarded by the fisheries establishment at that time as a mildly
eccentric university professor doing rather useless research."
The "fisheries establishment" was busy wiping
out native fisheries by introducing game fish, as it had been doing
for a century. But soon, Moyle writes, the academic sessions on
native fish were packed with "students and the younger members of
the fisheries agencies." And interest has continued to grow.
The book grew out of a joint project by
BioSystems Analysis Inc., in Santa Cruz, and Southern California
It is available for $45 paperback, $75
hardback, from BioSystems Books, 303 Potrero St., Ste 29-101, Santa
Cruz, CA 95060; or by calling 1/800 983-LIFE; wholesale inquiries
to Heyday Books, P.O. Box 9145, Berkeley, CA 94709 (510/549-3564).