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New book about rainforests sheds light on our own backyard

When most people think of rainforests, chances are they envision the tropical green jungles in the Amazon Basin or the steaming forests of Borneo.

But Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute in Ashland, will tell you rainforests are found in many nontropical locations around the globe, including Oregon.

"We are trying to let people know you don't have to go all the way to Brazil to see a rainforest," he said. "Oregon has rainforests in its coastal range. The old-growth on the west side of the Rogue River-Siskiyou (National Forest) where they get a lot of rain, they are rainforests."

A forest ecologist, DellaSala, 53, is the editor and principal writer of "Temperate and Boreal Rainforests of the World: Ecology and Conservation," a 336-page book recently published by Island Press.

In the book, DellaSala, who is president of the North America section of the Society for Conservation Biology, brought together more than 30 forest scientists from around the world to describe the ecology, conservation and threats to rainforests. "I wrote it so it would have a solid scientific foundation but also so it could be understood by a broader audience," he said.

Readers will visit rainforests in 10 far-flung places like Australia, northern Ireland, Japan and Siberia. But they also will be taken deep into the Oregon and California coastal range.

They will meet white Kermode bears, also known as "spirit bears," on British Columbia islands as well as 6-foot-long salamanders in the rainforests of Japan. In addition, they will be introduced to rainforest inhabitants that include brown bears, salmon, tigers and ancient trees whose genetic roots tap back to the time of the dinosaurs.

While most people are familiar with tropical rainforests which are found near the equator, temperate rainforests are found in temperate climates.

"These areas are not quite as warm but they still have lots of rain," he explained. "Boreal rainforests are the northern latitude rainforests where it is even colder but they still get enough moisture to qualify."

The low end to qualify would be about 40 inches of rain annually, he said.

Although much has been written about tropical rainforests, temperate and boreal rainforests have received little attention, he noted.

Former U.S. Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck, described the book as "ground breaking" in written comments included on the book's cover.

"It is a well-organized, clearly written account of these unique, rapidly disappearing forests and an inspiring global call to action to protect these forests before they disappear," he wrote.

Like their tropical counterparts, temperate and boreal rainforests store large quantities of carbon, DellaSala said. When the trees are cut down, a lot of that stored carbon is released as a greenhouse gas pollutant, he noted.

"The redwoods and our coastal rainforests are incredibly good at storing carbon for long periods," he said. "They are a big sponge for carbon. In fact, the redwoods and coastal forests up into Alaska have to be the best carbon storage on the planet, along with the Australian rainforest."

DellaSala, who said that less than 4 percent of the original California redwood stands remain intact, became interested in the nontropical rainforests while spending two research seasons on Prince Wales Island in Alaska where giant Sitka spruce were being felled.

But it was while listening to a song, "If a Tree Falls," by Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn in 1989 that he decided to launch a project focusing on temperate and boreal rainforests.

"It took me a while to put it all together," he said, noting he started working on the book two years ago. "The message is still the same wherever you go around the planet: Those rainforests are vanishing."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

New book about rainforests sheds light on our own backyard