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New book gives voice to the little-known Klamath Mountains

The Trinity Mountains, one of several mountain ranges that make up the Klamath Mountains, march off into the distance as seen from the Pacific Crest Trail. A new book, “The Klamath Mountains: A Natural History,” sheds light on this huge but little-known area of Northern California and Southern Oregon. [Mail Tribune / David Smigelski]

Michael Kauffmann recalls being frustrated when he’d mention the Klamath Mountains to friends.

Kauffmann, who lives in Kneeland, a small community about 14 miles from both Eureka and Arcata in Northern California’s Humboldt County, says the common response when he made mention of the nearby mountain range was, “Where’s the Klamath Mountains?”

After years of frustration, he decided, “It’s one of those little secrets that needed a voice.”

Kauffmann’s needed voice is “The Klamath Mountains: A Natural History,” which he co-edited with Justin Garwood. There are many “voices” in the information-packed book, with Garwood, Kauffmann and 32 other authors providing input on everything from geology, fire ecology, plant communities, invertebrates, reptiles, birds and first peoples.

While Kauffmann provided or contributed to chapters featuring climate, cryptogams, plant communities, invertebrates, birds and mammals, Garwood authored or co-authored chapters on climate, water, invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. The 32 others — most affiliated with California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt or Cal Poly Humboldt — wrote about a variety of other topics related to the region’s incredibly diverse and rich biodiversity.

The idea for the book stemmed from Kauffmann’s desire to help people recognize and appreciate the Klamath Mountains, a rugged, lightly visited mountain range that spans a region from northwestern California to southwestern Oregon. The area includes the Siskiyou, Marble, Scott and Trinity mountains along with the Trinity Alps. The area is bisected by several major rivers, including the Klamath, Rogue, Illinois, Chetco, Scott and Salmon.

As David Rains Wallace, author of “The Klamath Knot,” notes in the book’s prologue, until now “no comprehensive field guide existed for the Klamath region. That suited me in a way because I liked to think I was exploring a little-known place. … This book is a big step toward convincing people that there is much more worth protecting in the Klamath Mountains than spectacular scenery.”

Likewise, as Kauffmann writes in his preface, a goal of the book is to answer: “How do we go about creating a society in which children of all ages can interpret and understand the natural world? The answer, most likely, is nature study.”

In the Geological History chapter, author Mark Bailey writes the Klamath Mountains were somewhat ignored by John Muir and others because “historically, the area has been poorly understood by scientists because of its rugged terrain and isolation. … It was, essentially, terra incognita to outsiders.”

The region is fascinating, Bailey believes, because the mountains “are composed of nearly all the different kinds of rocks commonly found on Earth — and others that are not so common.”

While the book is semi-technical — “Our hope is that it’s accessible to every reader,” Kauffmann says — it’s made readable through breakout writings, such as a page about the region’s ice age, and many pages filled with color photos that illustrate everything from flowers, woodpeckers and snakes to rabbits, hares, turtles, bats, frogs, toads, fish, mollusks, bees, plants and butterflies.

Kauffmann said he began an outline for the book after meeting with Garwood in 2012. A few years later, the two met with others with knowledge in various specialties, telling them: “This is our vision.”

Garwood, who has degrees from Cal Poly Humboldt in fisheries biology and wildlife, has been an environmental scientist for California Department of Fish and Wildlife for 15 years. His background includes studying population trends for Cascade frogs, monitoring snowfields and glacier declines in the Klamath Mountains and developing and implementing salmon, steelhead and coastal trout monitoring programs. Kauffmann credits Garwood as helping to work with others in providing details and nuances.

The book is published by Backcountry Press, which Kauffmann launched in 2012 after other publishers backed away from his first book, “Conifer Country.” Kauffmann moved to Humboldt County after graduating from Virginia Tech and later earned a master’s degree in biology from Cal Poly Humboldt. He has many interests as a research plant ecologist, is president of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance, participates with the Save the Redwoods League, and has been an educator for Fortuna Elementary School District for nearly 20 years. He says his goal at all age levels is “to connect people of all ages to the natural world.”

The book also informed Kauffmann, who admits, “I learned so much that it’s amazing.”

Now, with the book, he hopes others will learn about the Klamath Mountains.

“The Klamath Mountains: A Natural History,” by Michael Kauffmann and Justin Garwood, is available through backcountrypress.com.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.