- The Texas Landscape Project: Nature and People by David Todd and Jonathan Ogren
The Texas Landscape Project artfully and knowledgeably narrates a geographic picture of Texas's people and environment, and how these two elements are intertwined among the natural and anthropogenic resources of the state. The authors, David Todd and Jonathan Ogren, both environmental conservationists by personal and professional activisms, use an atlas format filled with maps, aerial photography, charts, graphic images, and textual descriptions to convey a candid perspective of Texas through a gallery of scientific, cultural, and historical representations of the state's land, water, air, energy, and built world attributes. These five main themes are used to organize the book, and the authors incorporate an abundance of historical to contemporary data sources to reveal an array of captivating short stories that collectively tell the bigger story of the conservation and exploitation of Texas's natural resources.
Topics range from the status of protecting migratory pathways and milkweed food sources for monarch butterflies, to the unfortunate excessive amounts of waste associated with the mining, oil, and gas industry and where that waste is stored on the landscape—two distinct yet spatially intersecting issues critical to land and energy management in the Great Plains. While the focus is on Texas, different topics are connected, where relevant, to greater regional, national, and global scales. For example, the coverage of exotic invasive species not only shows where these organisms have spread throughout Texas, but the authors also provide historical context for when, where, and how they came to be here. Particularly informative to the Great Plains are the global origin, dispersal, and introduction timing of the numerous non-native grasses, which are now widespread throughout the region and are a threat to remnant protected patches of native prairie grasslands that have not already been converted to other land covers such as agriculture or development. Other topics in the atlas that are related to the grassland prairies include, but are not limited to, (1) the importance of fire, how it has been suppressed, and the role of the Prescribed Burn Association in managing controlled fires; (2) the history of the American bison, including its near extinction from overhunting throughout the Great Plains and its ironic story of conservation by Charles Goodnight, who simultaneously replaced its range with cattle while starting a breeding program that increased the bison population from single digits into the hundreds; and (3) the significance of playas, the shallow ephemeral wetlands that provide seasonal habitats to waterfowl and other migratory birds, and how agriculture, roads, and other land uses are impacting their natural ecological function.
Though my review intends to provide only a snapshot of the examples covered by the atlas, I encourage others to explore the pages on their own and learn about a variety of topics, among them droughts, reservoirs, wind turbines, coal, nighttime light pollution, exotic fish and birds, air pollution and carbon emissions, whooping cranes, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the Trinity Barge Canal project, population growth and city expansions, and an overview of public and private protected places in Texas.
The book is valuable as an educational tool or conversational coffee-table piece. A goal of the Texas Landscape Project, as articulated by the authors, is that people find a "renewed value and purpose in conserving Texas for the future." I think it would be nearly impossible for any individual to spend any time with this book and not be inspired to contribute to Texas's conservation, even if [End Page 148] that simply involves sharing this book with a neighbor who may not already have an appreciation for the delicate balance in resource use that is required to sustain Texas's landscapes for future generations.
Texas State University