A remnant group of elusive caribou in the Rocky Mountains embody the plight of a wilderness under siege in this lavishly illustrated eco-study.
Moskowitz (Wolves in the Land of Salmon, 2013, etc.), a wildlife tracker and photographer, explores the lives of the so-called “mountain caribou,” a subpopulation of reindeer living in a region of the Rockies that’s also the world’s largest interior temperate rainforest, stretching some 500 miles from Washington and Idaho to British Columbia. The area’s old-growth forests, watered by heavy rainfall and deep winter snowpack, furnish an unusual ecological niche for the caribou, who migrate up and down the mountains, subsisting mainly on lichen. Meanwhile, the caribou’s endangered status energizes human efforts to protect the forests from man-made encroachments. Moskowitz analyzes this biologically unique environment and the complex adaptations that caribou and other creatures have that enable them to survive there, surveys the destruction wrought by logging operations, examines the place of caribou in Indigenous cultures, and celebrates his own communion with primeval nature: “I bask in a moment of grace,” he writes about spying a grizzly and her cub in a clearing. The author’s tone occasionally gets strident, as when he decries “the juggernaut of Western civilization’s cancerous relationship with its habitat.” But his absorbing natural history usually makes a more measured, if still ardent, plea for preserving the forest and its fauna while also accommodating limited, sustainable human use of its resources. The book is strewn with gorgeous color photographs, most taken with camera traps that used motion detectors to sense and snap passing beasts. The caribou browsing the foliage or sniffing the lens aren’t the most visually charismatic creatures, and they frequently come off as a bit mangy. But other animals steal the show, including majestic bears, hypnotic mountain lions, suave lynxes, quarrelsome marmots, shrill wrens, and imperturbable toads. Moskowitz’s composed landscapes—featuring stars and the aurora borealis shimmering above trees, craggy peaks, soft meadows, and ravaged clear-cuts—are especially good and make a powerful argument for conservation.
A fine coffee-table tome about a rich and threatened ecosystem.