“Mammals of Montana,” by Kerry R. Foresman. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula. 440 pages, paperback. $32.
By KRISTEN RICKELS PRINZING - For The Outpost
In 2012, I became the owner of quite a few fabulous new books. New to me, anyhow. Many have been available for a number of years already. Each book provided me with excitement and anticipation, and all but two or three were as rewarding as I had hoped they would be.
Along with psychology and neuroscience, cultural studies, and a few architecture books, many of the books I added to my library were naturalist field guides, as I studied to and became certified in Montana as a Master Naturalist last spring. Birds, plants, mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles, grasses, tracking – they are all there, most having multiple guides to a topic area, since I’ve been building a collection of guides since I was a teen.
But every guide is different, and some are better than others. Both of these points are underscored by my hands-down choice of my No. 1 favorite book of 2012: “Mammals of Montana” by Kerry Foresman, published last August by Mountain Press Publishing in Missoula.
Not only is it my favorite book acquisition of the year, it also almost immediately skyrocketed to the top position among my field guides as well.
The book is such a winner because it fulfills the needs of amateur and professional alike, all in one easy-to-browse yet easy-to-read volume. The book provides all the necessary information for use in research-level field identification work (i.e., dental and skull information, measurements) while at the same time providing lots of fascinating natural history details about each of the 109 different mammals known in Montana.
And it is replete with engaging photos that both aid in identification and give the reader a richer, more direct experience of the mammal in question.
The photos – more than 500 color photos – range from being rather ordinary to astonishingly beautiful – but they all serve the goal of providing visual information to the user of the book.
Author Kerry Foresman is a professor of biology at the University of Montana. This edition of the book is much expanded from the first, which was published in 2001 and has been used extensively as a primary reference by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents and the U.S. Forest Service ever since. This edition vastly expands its photographs and illustrations and was intentionally created to be suitable for a much greater range of users. More information on Foresman, including a long list of publications, can be found at http://dbs.umt.edu/research_labs/foresmanlab/.
The photos – usually the most costly part of a book of this nature – came from the generosity of colleagues and collaborators that Foresman had worked with over his lengthy career. Foresman himself contributes at least a third of the images, and Alexander Badyaev likely an equal amount.
Badyaev is a professor of evolutionary biology at University of Arizona and a winner of both the 2011 BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the 2011 National Wildlife Photography awards. The quality and charm of his work is evident in the book.
Two of my favorite photos of his are of a deer mouse on a large mushroom cap, whose image is captured during the night and a source of light – it almost seems like moonlight – illuminates the creature’s fur and whiskers as it stands upright in pursuit of an insect (one image) and to sniff the air (the other).
One does have to appreciate rodents (and there are a lot of rodents of various sizes, shapes and dispositions in Montana) to fully enjoy the photography in this book. It is not easy to get pictures of many of these reclusive, nocturnal creatures.
The book begins with an introduction to the guide that includes sections with localized discussion of the effects of climate change and species status issues. You can actually read some of the introduction on the book’s website at MontanaMammals.com.
The chapters are organized by taxonomic order, beginning with general information about each order, skull and dentition and other identification and species basics. A detailed description follows of each individual creature belonging to that order that is found in Montana.
Subheadings include distribution, ecology and behavior, diet and foraging activity, reproduction and scientific discovery. Additional details are found in pull-out paragraphs. Maps, graphs, and images of habitat and food species are featured for each creature as well.
The information is thorough but it is also interestingly presented, including the important facts as well as the fascinating details, such as how the species interact with one another, how they make their homes, what might surprise or astonish us about a species, what they eat and what kinds of interesting behaviors they engage in.
The rich detail of the book is likely its greatest feature, but that probably also contributes to one of its two minor flaws. The book is on the heavy side for toting into the field, particularly for a multi-day trip if you are trying to keep your backpack light. The book is a paperback, but with 440 pages that feature 500 color photographs and 115 maps, it probably can’t be kept much under its weight of exactly two pounds if a fantastic, exhaustive field guide to the mammals of Montana is what you want. I certainly wouldn’t want anything taken out of it.
(Suggestion to publisher: perhaps publish the book in a ring binder format, so naturalists could select portions of the guide to bring along on their trips and leave the rest at home!)
The other imperfection is one that may not really matter much to most, especially if you “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Mammals of Montana’s cover has black text on a white background with a square landscape photograph in the lower half with two bison in the foreground that seem to have been photo shopped into the picture. Odd! There are hundreds of far better images inside the book that would have made for a vastly more enticing cover. Perhaps in the third edition?
But cover and weight aside (and the fact that it reignites my keening regret that I did not become a wildlife biologist), this book is fantastic and every Montanan should have a copy of it. And I mean it!