“Islands of Grass”
By Trevor Herriot, Photography by Branimir Gjetvaj (Coteau Books)
This excellent High Plains Book Awards nomination explains the importance and evolution of North American and Canadian native grasslands. It is beautifully accompanied by photographs that amplify the contrasts between nature, grazing, and cultivation. Herriot is a naturalist, activist, and writer focusing on prairie and grasslands.
Gjetvaj is a biologist, photography instructor, and internationally published environmental photographer.
To learn about the evolution of grasslands is to see the similarities of the familiar cultural divide between economic forces versus conservation, bison or cattle, barbed wire or free range, extraction or sustainability. “Islands of Grass” explores these divides and explains how they are not always mutually exclusive but can be structured for successful diverse management. Herriot urges the protection of grasslands by encouraging ranchers to graze their herds and pass on their land in good condition. “When the birds start to go, we should pay attention because we will likely be next,” according to Glen Elford, a pasture manager cattle producer.
Herriot lists cultivation, demand for gravel, and oil wells as significant threats to grasslands. Without the grasslands the soil will degrade, storing less carbon and fewer nutrients. Without soil fertility land erosion will occur, diminishing the growth of grasses and thus the health and life of many creatures that are part of the total ecosystem.
There is soul in this book. The beautiful photographs visually highlight the grassland species and evidence the contrast between nature and cultivation through the lens of grassland flora and the endangered creatures who live there: Mormon metalmark butterflies, sharp-tailed grouse, burrowing owl, swift fox, and Sprague’s Pipit. This book called me to spend further time with the swift fox and Sprague’s Pipit via book and internet.
This is a book that not only takes you along in interest but by its very essence invites you to learn more.
Becky Wiehe is a retired non-profit director and High Plains Book Awards board member.