Sea Otter Vision at Point Dume on Santa Monica Bay

Compiled by Robert Roy van de Hoek from his set of Natural History Guides.
December 21, 2001

The CALIFORNIA NATURAL HISTORY GUIDES series is an important collection of books. These books have a long history of 42 years as of this Millenium with over 60 "guides" published thus far. However, only one book on birds and very little on insects has been published (other than butterflies), almost as though the animals that fly are not part of the land? The "Environmental History" of the series of books has been to teach about nature, but to avoid generally talking about destruction of California's natural and wild heritage. The last few books by Allan Schoenherr do have sections about the impacts on natural California, but no single volume has been dedicated to the destruciton of "California Natural History." Having said this, the Guides introduced me to the Sierra Nevada, now 25 years ago as an eighteen year old teenager. I can still remember using NATIVE WILDFLOWERS OF THE SIERRA NEVADA to identify columbine and snowplant. while hiking on a solo trip on the John Muir Trail at Yosemite National Park. Now I am a scientist and naturalist 25 years later. The "Guides" are still near and dear to my heart. And now I have become an environmentalist activist which is beginning to supercede my naturalist training, not unlike John Muir and many other early naturalists. So I guess the Guides in a most subtle way do a subversive kind of education, in that once we learn nature and love wild California more and more, we inevitably become environmentalists. You can see it in the next few sentences in regards to professional ecology. Professional ecologists all belong to the Ecological Society of America and receive the scientific journal called ECOLOGY. And here is what the editors of ECOLOGY had to say about the California Natural History Guides Series as follows: "These handbooks are models of their kind. They are useful both as basic tools for ecologists and to instruct an interested public, partly so that public can take intelligent part in the debates over applications of ecology to our environmental problems."

The newspapers editorial sections have good things to say of the "guides" as follows: "If you're vacationing in California this summer - camping out or just taking day trips to some of our great parks and primitive areas - some of the nicest things to pack along are the California Natural History Guides, published by the University of California Press. They're compact (in paperback), scientifically precise but interestingly presented, and written so even elementary school children can read them with relative ease. They're illustrated with quite accurate line drawings and color plates and, best of all, they're relatively inexpensive."

In 1972,Arthur C. Smith, General Editor of the California Natural History Guides, as a preface to Teaching Science in an Outdoor Environment, wrote this first synopsis of the Guides as a dedication to Robert Usinger as follows:

"The California Natural History Guides now number thirty titles with additional Guides in various stages of preparation or planning. This series had its genesis at a meeting of the directors of the East Bay Regional Parks Association in 1954, when the desirability of a series of leaflets on the natural history of the Berkeley Hills was discussed. This suggestion appealed very much to Doctor Robert L. Usinger, who was the chairman of the Education Committee of University of California Press. As a youngster he had learned about California's plants and animals, but only through great effort, using large technical monographs and seeking the help of experts at the California Academy of Sciences and the University. The thought that it might be possible to provide inexpensive, well-illustrated, pocket-size natural history handbooks for the beginner interested in learning about his environment intrigued Doctor Usinger. He proposed that the UC Press undertake such a project. And the California Natural History Guides resulted."

"Doctor Usinger served as a member of the committee which guided the development of these books and expanded their scope to include the entire state. Without his enthusiastic support and continued efforts it is doubtful that any of the Guides would have been published."

"With the appearance of this volume we take stock of what we have done thus far, and evaluate the use of all of the Guides in studying the plants, animals and physical features of our environment. It seems appropiate to dedicate it to the memory of ROBERT LESLIE USINGER, 1912-1968."

Sixteen years later, Arthur C. Smith, General Editor of the California Natural History Guides, in 1988, wrote the following brief synopsis of the Guides as a Dedication to A. Starker Leopold as follows:

"The first four volumes of the California Natural History Guides were published in May 1959. In August 1959, a Technical Advisory Committee (now Advisory Editorial Committee) was established to advise the General Editor and the Press on the future scope and content of the series. Over the years the committee has performed a very valuable service for the publisher and for the more than a million users of the guides. A. Starker Leopold was appointed to this committee at the outset in 1959, continued his participation after retirement, and rarely missed a meeting during the twenty-four years he served. Other original members of the committee were Robert C. Stebbins and the late Robert L. Usinger."

"Starker always took a great deal of interest in the guides under preparation; despite an extremely busy schedule, he always found time for consultation and assistance on the multitude of projects and problems the series entailed. For some time prior to his death, Starker had been working with us on final revisions of the manuscript of California Mammals. Indeed, only a few days before his death I reported to him on the implementation of his recommendations on the project."

"I met Starker Leopold March 20, 1941, when he gave a characteristically informative and interesting talk, "Turkey Management in the Ozarks," at a Grinnell Society meeting in Berkeley. Our paths crossed and recrossed many times during the years since. Work on any project with Starker was always a rewarding experience. We miss him, but we have much to remember him by. It is with great pleasure that I join with the authors of this book, E.W. Jameson, Jr., and Hans J. Peeters, in dedicating California Mammals, Volume 52 in the California Natural History Guide Series, to the memory of
A. STARKER LEOPOLD, 1913-1983."

Chronology of Natural History Guides by Number,Year, Title, Author.

01. 1959. Natural History of the San Francisco Bay Region. Arthur Smith

02. 1959. Mammals of the San Francisco Bay Region. William Berry/Elizabeth Berry.

03. 1959. Reptiles and Amphibians of the San Francisco Bay Region. Robert Stebbins

04. 1959. Native Trees of the San Francisco Bay Region. Woodbridge Metcalf.

05. 1960. Rocks and Minerals of the San Francisco Bay Region. William Bowen.

06. 1962. Weather of the San Francisco Bay Region. Harold Gilliam.

07. 1962. Evolution of the Landscape of the San Francisco Bay Region. Arthur Howard

08. 1962. Mushrooms of the San Francisco Bay Region. Robert Orr/Dorothry Orr.

09. 1962. Seashore Life of the San Francisco Bay Region. Joel Hedgpeth.

10. 1962. Early Uses of California Plants. Edward Balls.

11. 1965. Spring Wildflowers of the San Francisco Bay Region. Helen Sharsmith.

12. 1965. Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Region. J. Tilden.

13. 1966. Natural History of Southern California. Edmund Jaeger/Arthur Smith.

14. 1966. Native Trees of Southern California. Victor Peterson.

15. 1966. Native Shrubs of Southern California. Peter Raven.

16. 1966. Ferns and Fern Allies of California. Steve Grillos.

17. 1966. Weather of Southern California. Harry Bailey

18. 1966. Cacti of California. E. Yale Dawson.

19. 1966. Seashore Plants of Southern California. E. Yale Dawson.

20. 1966. Seashore Plants of Northern California. E. Yale Dawson.

21. 1968. Mammals of Southern California. Ernest Booth.

22. 1968. Mushrooms of Southern California. Robert Orr/Dorothry Orr.

23. 1968. Fossil Vertebrates of Southern California. Theodore Downs.

24. 1968. Native Trees of the San Francisco Bay Region. Roxanna Ferris.

25. 1968. Deep-Water Fishes of California. John Fitch/Robert Lavenberg.

26. 1969. Seashore Life of Southern California. Sam Hinton.

27. 1968. Introduced Trees of Central California. Woodbridge Metcalf.

28. 1971. Marine Food and Game Fishes of California. John Fitch/Robert Lavenberg

29. 1972. Marine Mammals of California. Robert Orr.

30. 1972. Teaching Science in an Outdoor Environment. Phyllis Gross/Esther Railton.

31. 1972. Amphibians and Reptiles of California. Robert Stebbins.

32. 1974. Sierra Wildflowers. Theodore Niehaus.

33. 1974. Grasses in California. Beecher Crampton.

34. 1974. Native Shrubs of the Sierra Nevada. John Thomas/ Dennis Parnell.

35. 1974. Introduction to California Plant Life. Robert Ornduff.

36. 1975. Native Trees of Sierra Nevada. Victor Peterson.

37. 1975. Geology of the Sierra Nevada. Mary Hill.

38. 1975. Tidepool and Nearshore Fishes of California. John Fitch/Robert Lavenberg.

39. 1976. Underwater California. Wheeler North

40. 1977. Water Birds of California. Howard Cogswell.

41. 1977. Edible and Useful Plants of California. Charlotte Bringle Clarke.

42. 1979. Mushrooms of Western North America. Robert Orr/Dorothry Orr.

43. 1979. Geologic History of Middle California. Arthur Howard.

44. 1980. California Insects. Jerry Powell/Charles Hogue.

45. 1980. Growing California Native Plants. Marjorie Schmidt.

46. 1980. Natural World of the California Indian. Robert Heizer/Albert Elsasser.

47. 1982. Seashore Plants of California. E.Yale Dawson/Michael Foster.

48. 1984. California Landscape. Mary Hill.

49. 1984. Freshwater Fishes of California. Samuel McGinnis.

50. 1987. Natural History of Vacant Lots. Matthew Vessel/Herbert Wong.

51. 1986. California Butterflies. John Garth/J.W. Tilden.

52. 1988. California Mammals. E.W. Jameson/Hans Peeters.

53. 1986. Poisonous Plants of California. Thomas Fuller/Elizabeth McClintock.

54. 1988. Lichens of California. Mason Hale/Mariette Cole.

55. 1991. Natural History of the White-Inyo Range. Clarence Hall.

56. 1992. Natural History of California. Allan Schoenherr.

57. 1993. Natural History of Big Sur. Paul Henson/Donald Usner.

58. 1994. California Forests and Woodlands. Verna Johnston.

59. 1998. Glaciers of California. Bill Guyton.

60. 1999. Sierra East: Edge of the Great Basin. Genny Smith.

61. 1999. Natural History of the California Islands. Allan Schoenherr.

I did some calculations on the dates and rates of publication based on the Natural History Guides listed above as follows:
1959-1969....... 27 guide books were published in the 1960's.
1970-1979....... 16 guide books were published in the 1970's.
1980-1989....... 11 guide books were published in the 1980's.
1990-1999....... 7 guide books were published in the 1990's.

It is obvious that the number of guides being published each decade is decreasing which alarms me. However, the books have gotten longer and larger by hundreds of pages, so that more "words" on natural history are being written, and that is encouraging.

There are some patterns that emerged related to authors as well. For example, two authors did four books: Robert Orr and E. Yale Dawson.
Two authors did three books: John Fitch and Robert Lavenberg.
And lastly, five authors did two books: Allan Schoenherr, Victor Peterson, Robert Stebbins, Woodbridge Metcalf, Arthur Howard, and Mary Hill.

Also of interest is the topics preference with most books being on animals with 16 books. There were 9 books on natural history topics in general with a regional focus. There are 7 books on geology. There were 2 books on weather. But 35 books on plants. Considering that for every native plant in California there are about 6 native insects, it is surprising that there are not about 200 Natural History Guides for insects alone from grasshoppers to ants to beetles. In essence there are about 5000 native plants but over 30,000 native insects in California, so why not more GUIDES on the insects?

There are an almost infinite number of subjects and geographic areas that need to be written about for California. Some examples might include:
Natural History of California Estuaries.
Natural History of California Ants.
Natural History of California Raptors
Natural History of California Seastars
Natural History of California Alien Plants.
Natural History of California Prairies.

Notice also that more books are about northern California than southern California, but also that the "Guides" were taxonomic, that is they were on a partiuclar subject, such as butterflies, trees, shrubs, rocks & minerals for example. But in later years, the "Guides" became focused on the entire state of California but remained taxonomic/topical. The GUIDES of the recent years are no longer taxonomic but rather ecological and comprehensive for specific geographic areas of the state. This current trend is welcome except that it is still biased against southern California. While it is true that the Channel Islands are in southern California, they are generally not accessible to the urban population, which needs really to be reached. There are no books on the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, Carrizo Plain, San Bernardino Mountains, but I suppose there are no books on much of northern California regions either, such as the Santa Cruz Mountains, Modoc Plateau in northeastern California, Diablo Range, Transverse Ranges, North Coast Ranges. California is a large state with a lot of natural area landscapes but so how was the decision made to select the California Islands, White-Inyo Range, East Sierra, and Big Sur, as regional natural history guides, when many other natural areas deserve a "Guide" as well. I feel that focusing on natural history of regions near urban areas in Los Angeles should get some attention, as people in urban areas need especially to know and learn about nature near their homes. Natural Areas such as the Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Susanna Mountains, Baldwin Hills, Santa Ana Mountains, Palos Verdes Peninsula, and San Gabriel Mountains need books written about them. Also, why can't the books have a chapter on biopolitics and environmentalism as a part of natural history. A book on California Ecological Restoration would be welcome too. How about books on certain habitats such as the NATURAL HISTORY OF THE COASTAL SAND DUNES, NATURAL HISTORY OF COASTAL WETLANDS, NATURAL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA RIVERS and STREAMS, NATURAL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA PRAIRIE/GRASSLANDS, and NATURAL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA VERNAL POOLS.

Closing Thoughts
by a
Twenty-first Century (21st Century-2000) Naturalist, Geographer, Biologist, Ecologist, Scientist and Evolving Environmentalist
Robert Roy van de Hoek

Trained as a biologist and geographer at a California State University, I am "blown away" by the University of California Press has published 61 Natural History Guides in 41 years. This rate of pubishing books equates to an average of three books every two years. The Natural History Guides have seen some trends these last few years as they have gotten to be longer books by hundreds of pages and they are more geographic and ecological in nature rather than taxonomic/topical in nature. Two recent guides by Allan Schoenherr exemplify this trend. These two guides are: NATURAL HISTORY OF THE CALIFORNIA ISLANDS and the NATURAL HISTORY OF CALIFORNIA, both of which are excellent for afficionados of "California wild nature" to have on their bookshelves, in their laps and hands, in their backpacks while out and about in California, or in their car on the passenger seat as a natural history field reference and while sitting bumper to bumper in traffic in Los Angeles or on a quiet backroad in some landscape of California's wild nature such as the Carrizo Plain, located in southern California, albeit north of Los Angeles.