New book helps hikers identify Klamath-Siskiyou conifers

The Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion is well known for harboring a multitude of conifer species — 35 to be exact. Many of those species are rare on Earth, and some, such as the Brewer spruce, grow nowhere else in the world.

But where does a Siskiyou hiker find these rare conifers? Then, after finding them, how do we tell them apart? And what can conifer forests tell us about natural history, climate change and our own future?

Those answers can be found in "Conifer Country" (Backcountry Press, $19.95), a new book published by author and ecologist Michael Kauffmann, 38, of Kneeland, Calif.

Kauffmann effectively took the region's complexity, condensed it and wrapped it up into a tidy book whose content stretches far beyond information on conifers in the Klamath-Siskiyou. He uses conifers as a lens to look deeper into the region's unparalleled biodiversity, and he does it without alienating readers who don't have a background in science.

"Conifer Country" starts out with an introduction of the Klamath-Siskiyou's turbulent natural history. The book then leads into specie descriptions complete with color pictures, associated habitat profiles and, according to Kauffmann, the most accurate range maps ever created for conifers in this region.

But this isn't your grandma's field guide; it's fun, easy to read, and Kauffmann's appreciation for wildness and wilderness shines in his technical writing.

He transforms the Klamath-Siskiyou region into the scene of a story. And within that scene, Kauffmann develops a character out of each conifer. For example, he calls the Brewer spruce a "living fossil," and says the ghost pine "must be developing an identity complex" to help demonstrate the trees' behaviors.

After teasing the reader's appetite for coniferous adventure, Kauffmann helps satiate it. The book's most useful section includes 29 hike descriptions that include driving directions, maps and elevation profiles. Each hike description also highlights species of interest, photos from Kauffmann's backwoods adventures and more of his creative insight.

"Conifer Country," supported in part by the Redwood Science Project at Humboldt State University and California Native Plant Society's North Coast Chapter, is available online at backcountrypress.com and locally at Northwest Nature Shop, 154 Oak St., Ashland. You can also buy the eBook for $13.95 at conifercountry.com, Kauffmann's website.

The paper copy is $19.95. That's not bad for 29 hikes, 35 conifer descriptions, and all the knowledge and wisdom that Kauffmann generously packed into this much anticipated book.

"It's a labor of love," said Kauffmann, a science teacher at Fortuna Elementary School and Humboldt State University. "I wanted to give a voice to the landscape."

Freelance writer Gabe Howe is executive director and field coordinator for the Siskiyou Mountain Club. Contact him at howegabe@gmail.com.


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