Spring 2024: The Nature of Oaks The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees by Douglas W. Tallamy

This spring as the trees put on a show by bursting with bright foliage, the USFWS Library is reading The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees by Douglas W. Tallamy. Oaks are a lifeline for countless creatures, they are champions for carbon sequestration, and are largely underappreciated by most homeowners and trained biologists. Oaks are a keystone species that have both ecological and economical significance. Oak trees are highest in ranking when it comes to supporting wildlife. It's the largest tree genus amounting to 600 species of oaks worldwide- with 90 or so species found in North America. Although they're slow growers, oaks are some of the longest living trees. So, let's look to the trees to learn more about their unique and fascinating story! 

Check out our list of discussion questions. On Thursday, May 16th the Wild Read community gathered to discuss The Nature of Oaks. We talked about the style of Tallamy's writing and how accessible it was; we were inspired by oaks and their amazing ecological interactions, and talked a lot about how to raise awareness on the significance of insect declines. The Wild Read community thoroughly enjoyed Doug Tallamy’s The Nature of Oaks and the fun dialogue between colleagues. It's an inspiring fact-filled resource and we hope you start advocating for our mighty oak trees too.

We cannot casually accept the loss of oaks without also accepting the loss of thousands of other plants and animals that depend on them." Douglas Tallamy

Winter 2024: Tenacious Beasts Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think about Animals by Christopher J. Preston 

This Winter, we read an inspirational bestseller titled, Tenacious Beasts: Wildlife Recoveries That Change How We Think about Animals by Christopher J. Preston. News for animals is pretty grim, with an overall twenty percent decline in wildlife populations in the last century and 900 species of wildlife gone extinct since industrialization. But despite the decline, some species of wildlife are making a comeback. Tenacious Beasts spotlights several species who have rebounded like humpback whales, black bears, storks, wolves, and more. This captivating book is written to inspire and bring hope through its stories of strong-willed and adaptable animals and their recoveries. 

Check out our list of discussion questions. On Thursday, February 29th the Wild Read community gathered to discuss Tenacious Beasts. We talked about the importance of keystone species and how vital they are to the ecosystem, we envisioned a “nature-inclusive society" that coexisted with apex predators and challenged each other to start building a new narrative for wildlife for them to flourish in the 21st-century landscape. 

“The challenge presented by the wolf in the Netherlands is a potent illustration of what many animal recoveries demand,” he writes. “To recover a wild animal, you don’t just need the right habitat, enough shelter, and sufficient prey. Nor is recovery simply a matter of better practices to allow humans and wildlife to coexist. You need to do more. You need to think differently about what the word wildlife really means.” ― Christopher J. Preston

Fall 2023: The Bald Eagle The Improbable Journey of America's Bird by Jack E. Davis 

This fall, for America’s Wild Read the USFWS Library featured a biography of our national bird, The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird by Jack E. Davis. Open your books and prepare to learn everything you ever wanted to know (and more) about Haliaeetus leucocephalus, from how the eagle became such a powerful symbol of the United States to the story of its near extinction and comeback. Filled with insight into humanity’s relationship to this unique bird, The Bald Eagle is a fascinating natural and cultural history. 

Check out our list of discussion questions. On Thursday, November 16th the Wild Read community gathered online to discuss The Bald Eagle. Taliah Farnsworth, Education Specialist, kicked off the discussion with a talk on the National Bald Eagle Repository

Jack E. Davis takes the reader to a time before the nation’s founding when Indigenous peoples live peacefully beside the eagle through two resurgences in the 20th century when it was not once, but twice nearly brought to extinction. First by hunting and then by DDT, a chemical pesticide. Davis recounts a panoramic history of the bird and an icon through nearly five centuries. The bald eagle is an environmental success story, but we need to stay diligent in protecting this remarkable bird!

“Birds are masterpieces of nature. The fluid beauty in their colors and their physical form is living art. Their every subtle and conspicuous movement - the undulating traverse of the wren, the high step of the heron, the dance of the crane, and the contemplative blink of the owl — is poetry. Wheeling, pitching, pivoting, swooping and swerving are an aesthetic.”  — Jack E. Davis 

Summer 2023: Stronghold One Man's Quest to Save the World's Wild Salmon by Tucker Malarkey 

This summer for America’s Wild Read the USFWS Library featured an inspiring and powerful story, Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon by Tucker Malarkey. An improbable and exciting story, Stronghold takes us on a wild adventure, from Oregon to Alaska to the one of the world’s last remaining salmon strongholds in the Russian Far East, a landscape of lush green hills and cerulean waters with rich biodiversity that is rapidly being developed for oil, gas, minerals, and timber. Along the way, Guido Rahr an elite fly fishermen who set out to save wild salmon from extinction, worked with scientists, conservationists, Russian oligarchs, corrupt officials, and unexpected allies to secure a stronghold for the endangered salmon. 

Tucker Malarkey has written in Stronghold a call to action for a sustainable future, an engaging work of natural history, and an eye-opening account of an extraordinary keystone species. Check out our list of discussion questions. On Thursday, August 17th the Wild Read community gathered online to discuss our summer read. Salmon are quite remarkable as they hold together magnificent, interconnected ecosystems. They are a symbolic creature with deep-rooted connections, and resilient as they undergo impressive life histories. Through a proactive approach like Rahr’s, iconic species like the Pacific salmon have a chance to thrive for generations to come.  

“As his life’s purpose became clear, Guido would adapt this approach to other fish and ecosystems and, finally, to people, the most challenging species of all. To save fish, Guido realized he would need to understand humans as completely as he understood the big brown of the Deschutes. Deciphering their behavior, customs, and organizing principles would become the ultimate test of his hunter’s instinct.” ― Tucker Malarkey 

Spring 2023: Refuge An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams

This spring for America’s Wild Read, the USFWS Library featured an environmental literature classic, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by award-winning author, Terry Tempest Williams. Being a Utah native, Terry grew up knowing Great Salt Lake, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, and the thousands of birds that migrate through and became her refuge and sanctuary. Both the landscape of her childhood and the landscape of her family, the bedrocks of her life, are subjected to change in this work first published in 1992. The author contemplates the threats facing Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, altered by rising levels of the Great Salt Lake, and her journey of loss as her mother battles ovarian cancer.  

She invites us into her own journey through grief and loss and shows readers the land through her eyes with, noting the wonder of wings in flight, noticing every detail of birds including their gemstone-colored eyes, or the peculiar spinning behavior of a Wilson’s phalarope. Her observations of nature and wildlife encourage the reader to slow down and live each day richly and ultimately find refuge in wild places.  

Check out our list of discussion questions. On Thursday, May 18th, the Wild Read Community gathered online for an in-depth discussion on Refuge. Through this lyrical memoir, Williams alternates between an observation of place, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge threatened by rising levels of Great Salt Lake, and a more personal observation of her mother's fight with ovarian cancer. Williams finds a pace and perspective needed to manage the changes in the landscape of her life. Her observations of nature and wildlife encourage the reader to slow down and live each day richly and ultimately find refuge in wild places and in family.   

“The landscapes we know and return to become places of solace. We are drawn to them because of the stories they tell, because of the memories they hold, or simply because of the sheer beauty that calls us back again and again.”  ― Terry Tempest Williams

Winter 2023: A Road Running Southward Following John Muir's Journey through an Endangered Land by Dan Chapman

Dan Chapman is a writer and reporter who is passionate about the outdoors. He's also a backcountry camper, and through A Road Running Southward has documented his journey travelling in Muir's footsteps across the South. He currently writes stories about conservation in the South for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A Road Running Southward is his first published book. 

John Muir, also known as "Father of the National Parks", was an influential Scottish-American naturalist, botanist, author, environmental philosopher, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States of America. In 1867, before Hetch Hetchy, Muir took a hike across the South.  This trip was one of his first treks that made him an enduring figure of the environmental movement.

Just 150 years later, Dan Chapman set off to follow Muir's journey. The cherished Southern landscape has evolved through time and experienced pressures like urban sprawl, toxic exposures, climate-induced changes to native species, and the loss of green space. Chapman argues, "There is no other thousand-mile walk that covers such richness of flora and fauna and no other place that tallies as many species at risk of extinction." Through his book, we understand how our choices shape our lands for years to come and all that we have to lose in the biodiverse and beautiful South. 

Check out our list of discussion questions as you read this eye-opening ecological travelogue with us. On Thursday, February 16, the Wild Read Community gathered online for an in-depth discussion with author Dan Chapman to talk about his first book, A Road Running Southward. Some of the main topics from our reading included the saga of water wars, human health impacts from industrial waste, ecotourism, and the vagaries of climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.

Learn more about climate change
like hurricanes and sea level rise. In the South, there’s a rich biodiversity of migratory birds, fresh and saltwater fishes, freshwater mussels, salamanders and so much more. It is such a beautiful and unique place, and we need to take care of it. 

“Rare today are the locations along Muir’s route that resemble life in 1867.” ― Dan Chapman 

Fall 2022: Immersion the Science and Mystery of Freshwater Mussels by Abbie Gascho Landis

Every creek and river has their story, and many of these are bound to mussels. This lyrical piece of nature writing celebrates the world under the water's surface and invites us to play a part in it.

Immersion is an invitation to see rivers from a mussel’s perspective, a celebration of the wild lives visible to those who learn to search. Mussels have much to teach us about the health of our watersheds if we step into the creek and take a closer look at their lives. Landis brings readers to a hotbed of mussel diversity, the American Southeast, to seek mussels where they eat, procreate, and, too often, perish. She worries what vanishing mussels—70% of North American species are imperiled—will mean for humans and wildlife alike. In Immersion, she shares this journey, traveling from perilous river surveys to dry streambeds and into laboratories where endangered mussels are raised one precious life at a time.  

Check out our list of discussion questions to think through as you read along. On Wednesday, November 9, the Wild Read community had a rich discussion about Immersion. We shared our favorite freshwater mussel species and the peculiar, yet amusing names they have like fatmucket, heelsplitter, and rabbitsfoot. We talked about their ecosystem services, like filtering our waters, and how to persuade the public to care about these important species. Another theme in our conversation was about the complicated biology of freshwater mussels, like finding them burrowed in the river bottom takes a practiced keen eye, and the challenges of properly identifying species of mussels, which can stump even a seasoned freshwater mussel biologist. Freshwater mussel biologist and NCTC Course Leader, Matthew Patterson and Ryan Hagerty, USFWS Photographer and Video Producer at NCTC, kicked off our book discussion and shared captivating visuals displaying mussel's fascinating reproductive adaptations and how quickly they filter water. These underwater heroes are truly beautiful, and they are worth protecting. 

"Mussels are the proverbial 'canary in the coal mine', and they could save us if we paid attention." ― Abbie Gascho Landis 

Summer 2022: Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid the Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson

This catchy title demands an explanation. Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid is a compelling story that explores ways that plants and animals are responding to  climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.

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 . Where does the book get its title? Spoiler alert: Anole lizards have grown larger toe pads to grip more tightly in frequent hurricanes. Warm waters cause the development of Humboldt squid to alter so dramatically that fishermen mistake them for different species. A story of hope, resilience, and risk that reminds us of the cascading effects of climate change- but life always finds a way. 

Check out our list of discussion questions for you to think through as you read along with us. On Wednesday, August 17the Wild Read community gathered online for an engaging conversation about Thor Hanson’s Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid. We discussed shifts in phenology and its cascading effects, the concept of plasticity and how certain species adapt quickly while others might not. Many people shared how this book is not your average doom and gloom book on climate change, it’s an inspiring story that focuses on how wildlife is responding to climate change through adaptation.   

Jason Goldberg is a biologist with the Science Applications Program in HQ, where he helps coordinate the Service’s Climate Change Action Program and Climate Change Community of Practice. He kicked off our discussion with a thought-provoking magic show. During his message around climate change he shared how important healthy balanced ecosystems are and brought up the effects of climate change like declines in the seafood and blue crab industry, oceans warming, and how there is so much we don’t yet know about our oceans. He believes we must work together and find innovative solutions to our changing climate. 

"With the world changing so rapidly, biological modeling provides something personal as well as something practical: it helps us decide what to worry about." ― Thor Hanson

Spring 2022: Silent Spring The Classic that Launched the Environmental Movement by Rachel Carson

The USFWS Library re-read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the classic that launched the environmental movement on its 60th anniversary year! Silent Spring shares an alarming message of the harmful and toxic effects of overusing pesticides, specifically DDT. This very powerful pesticide was capable of killing hundreds of different kinds of pests at once. Common pesticides, or “biocides” as Carson called them, didn’t just kill insects; they continued to remain toxic in the environment and kill non-targeted species.

As a result of her powerful book, DDT came under closer government supervision and was eventually banned. Through Silent Spring, we learn that nature is vulnerable, and we must be careful about what we do because we can damagethe natural environment. Carson inspires us to live in harmony with nature, to preserve and learn from the natural systems and its intricacies. 

On Thursday, May 19,the Wild Read community met for a book discussion and had a rich conversation about Rachel Carson's landmark work of environmental writing, Silent Spring. We discussed some of the main themes, such as ecology and the interconnectedness of all living things and systems, the human desire to control nature, and the effects of pesticides “biocides” as Carson calls them. Check our list of discussion questions. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Historian, Mark Madison, kicked off our session by sharing about Carson's life as well as highlighting Rachel Carson's personal items from her 16 years working for the agency, all held by the USFWS Museum and Archives which holds half a million items.  To learn more about Carson’s life and legacy, listen to our latest library podcast titled, Celebrating 60 Years of Silent Spring.

“Life is a miracle beyond our comprehension, and we should reverence it even where we have to struggle against it. . . .” ― Rachel Carson

Winter 2022: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior is a contemporary classic of conservation literature and the evolving genre of climate fiction. It was first published in 2012 and won the Weatherford Award and was nominated for the Orion Book Award and Women’s Prize for Fiction. A blending of important issues with engaging narrative that takes on topics like climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.

Learn more about climate change
, monarchs, and science communication. Entertaining and suspenseful, this literary fiction novel conveys an urgent social message about the future and our ever-changing climate, as a colony of butterflies and a young woman have both deviated from their optimal flight paths.

Kingsolver's books are rich in themes such as natural places, rural farming, the lives of everyday ordinary people, and the great outdoors. She has been mindful of the environment all her life and her contemporary fiction deals with climate change and reflects the actuality of Monarch migrations. Kingsolver studied ecology and evolutionary biology for her master's program, so her writing is informed by her scientific knowledge. In writing Flight Behavior, Kingsolver blendedlyricism with realism and humor. She increases our awareness of ecological crises by provoking readers' thoughts and feelings.

During our book discussion on Thursday, February 17, we talked about Kingsolver's writing style and how she's able to share this message of climate change with all sorts of audiences. She wrote the book in a way that makes a difficult subject like climate change more palatable. Another big topic of conversation was the art of effectively communicating science across cultural and social barriers and how important it is to be openminded and respectful even if you think you know all the answers. Check out our list of discussion questions we went over together. 

“I never learn anything from listening to myself.” ― Barbara Kingsolver

Fall 2021: Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass was voted a New York Times Bestseller and the “Best Essay Collection of the Decade” by Literary Hub, as well as a Reading Recommendation for Fall from Food Tank. Intertwining of science, spirit, and story, Kimmerer offers this beautiful “braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world” as she shares on her background of being both a botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion “that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.” 

Check out our list of discussion questions to supplement your reading! On Tuesday, November 16the Wild Read community gathered together to discuss the  main themes in this book like reciprocity, restoring our relationship with the land, traditional ecological knowledge, and unexpected gifts. Our readers loved Kimmerer’s stories about Maple trees, wild strawberries, and salamanders, and connected with the beauty of her prose. Scott Aiken, National Native American Liaison, started our discussion with his relationship to the book, and his dream of someday working with Kimmerer.  

“I want to stand by the river in my finest dress. I want to sing, strong and hard, and stomp my feet with a hundred others so that the waters hum with our happiness. I want to dance for the renewal of the world.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer

Summer 2021: Coyote America a Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores

This Summer for America's Wild Read, we read Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores. Coyotes haven’t just survived, they have thrived and expanded all across North America. Coyote America is a remarkable biography of this adaptive and resilient animal, blending history, biology and folklore. 

Coyote America offers not only a history of the coyote in America, but of the humans who have interacted with them through a history of public land management and the environmental movement. Understanding the changes in how the United States has thought about, studied, controlled, and preserved wildlife is critical to the coyote’s story. Coyotes are a keystone species with which humans have developed an antagonistic relationship — but their adaptations and innate behavior make them exceedingly difficult to control. Coyotes have been explicitly persecuted as predators by state and government agencies throughout history. Dan Flores writes that ultimately, coyotes have won the war waged against them, they’re survivors, and our best option is coexistence.

Check out our full list of discussion questions to think through as you read. On Thursday, September 2we joined online for a book discussion and talked about co-existing with coyotes, their role as meso-predator, and coyotes in pop-culture like Wile E. Coyote, the famous Looney Tunes cartoon character, whose mythical endurance is unmatched. Coyote America is an eye-opening biography of a clever canine who deserves an advocate.  

"Coyotes have the gift of seldom being seen; they keep to the edge of vision and beyond, loping in and out of cover on the plains and highlands. And at night, when the whole world belongs to them, they parley at the river with the dogs, their higher, sharper voices full of authority and rebuke. They are an old council of clowns, and they are listened to." ―N. Scott Momaday

Spring 2021: Eager the Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb

Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter was voted Winner of the 2019 E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award and it is a powerful story about one of the world’s most influential species, and how beavers can help us fight the effects of climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's climate system and caused change on a global scale.

Learn more about climate change
and ecological degradation.  

Goldfarb writes about how today’s landscape could have been radically different if it weren’t for the fur trade that trapped millions of beavers in North America. As a result, streams eroded, wetlands dried up, and many species lost vital habitats. Today, beavers are back (though not to historic population levels), and Goldfarb explores their impact on land management and habitat restoration, as well as the sometimes fraught relationship between humans and beavers.

Check out our list of our discussion questions to go though as you read along. On Thursday, May 20we hosted a book discussion where we talked about various themes from our reading. We gained a deeper understanding of beavers, their history with the landscape, and their important role in engineering ecosystems. We shared our favorite reintroduction stories of people who are fighting to reintroduce beavers for an end goal of stream restoration. We talked about human-beaver interactions over time, their history of being harvested for their pelts to private landowners removing nuisance beavers. The story of humans and beavers coexisting is a complex one that bring both chaos and ecological restoration. Goldfarb calls for the conservation of species like beavers that are not protected by the Endangered Species Act, or as J.B. McKinnon put it, “the conservation of the common.” Beavers are “agents of profound change” and they are “smart enough to know what a fully functional ecosystem looks like.” 

“Beavers, the animal that doubles as an ecosystem, are ecological and hydrological Swiss Army knives, capable, in the right circumstances, of tackling just about any landscape-scale problem you might confront." ― Ben Goldfarb

Winter 2021: The Home Place Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

This Winter for America's Wild Read, we're featuring Dr. J. Drew Lanham’s, The Home Place: Memoirs of Colored Man's Love Affair With Nature, which was voted a “Best Scholarly Book of the Decade” by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Lanham writes of his family history, his identity, and his relationship to the land in Edgefield County, South Carolina. 

The National Conservation Training Center is often thought of as the home of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Home can be a feeling you get when surrounded by those most important to you, it can be a state of mind or a sense of belonging somewhere or perhaps home is just a house where you grew up. 

On Tuesday March 2, the Wild Read community gathered for our book discussion. Check out our list of discussion questions. Many readers have found that their experiences parallel Lanham’s in some way, through a rural upbringing, growing up with religion as a family value, or finding connections to nature from a young age. Our Wild readers reflected on their homes, ancestral, childhood, and present, and how we are all stewards of our own home place. We talked about representation and making outdoor spaces more welcoming for people of color, as well as Aldo Leopold's land ethic.  Our readers were inspired by and related to Lanham as an educator, and as a steward of nature with hopes for the future of our environment. 

“I believe the best way to begin reconnecting humanity's heart, mind, and soul to nature is for us to share our individual stories.” ― J. Drew Lanham