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Book Review
"Sierra Nevada: The Naturalist's Companion."

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Buy 'Sierra Nevada: The Naturalist's Companion.' Buy Sierra Nevada: The Naturalist's Companion. This gem of a book by Verna R. Johnston (published by University of California Press) is a treasury in words and photographs of the trees, other flora, and the fauna of the Sierra Nevada.

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Why it's worth reading Sierra Nevada.

Naturalist Verna R. Johnston's engaging book, Sierra Nevada: The Naturalist's Companion brims with the glories of the 400-mile mountain range, the most spectacular in California.

She ranges from its western foothills, which start at 200 to 400 feet, to its summits of 14,000-plus feet, and drops down the abrupt eastern slope, which often falls 10 times as fast as the western slope.

Throughout, in clear and captivating language, Johnston shares her delight and knowledge of each dominant forest type. She describes the varied plant communities and their associated fauna, and highlights the characteristic trees.

Through her, we encounter the giant sequoias and the sugar pines, the incense cedars and the red firs, as well as rarely recorded events such as a wolverine attacking and routing two bears, and a battle-to-the-death between a skink and a scorpion.

We encounter old-growth forests and riparian greenery, tule elk and mountain beaver. Johnston is an acurate and loving observer of the supportive and the competetive interactions among different species.

She describes how fire, flood, fungi, and weather affect the forests, and shows devastating effects of humans (from direct results of tree harvesting to indirect results of soil compaction by grazing cattle and sheep) on varied forest ecologies in the last two centuries. The book includes more recent changes too, such as acid snow and steep drops in amphibian populations. She notes the work of John Muir and other preservationists, and the battles for Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe.

Johnston illustrates her text with 50 of her gorgeous color photographs, including one of my favorites - a "porcupine beats dog" kind of picture, captioned: "Dogs either learn to stay away from porcupines on their fires encounter, or they never do. This dog had just been quilled by a porcupine's tail for the seventh time."

Clear and detailed line drawing by Carla Simmons illustrate scientific data in the text, such as an illustration of Giant sequoia seed dissemination.

Verna R. Johnston taught biology at San Joaquin Delta College for 37 years. She is a professional biologist, a veteran ornithologist and natural-history writer, and a well-known wildlife photographer.

Plant Communities of Sierra Nevada.

Johnston identifies these plant communities:

Sections of Sierra Nevada.

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