Book about Texas’ landscapes and nature to debut

Texas coal mining, fire ants, light pollution, monarch butterflies, Hill Country springs, dams in the Big Bend: No topic appears to be too small or big for inclusion in “The Texas Landscape Project.”

Seemingly Victorian in its ambitions, the magisterial 500-page tome on the nature and people of Texas recalls encyclopedias of yesteryear — but it’s up to date, with dozens of photos and maps including “Illegal Releases of Exotic Fish, 1880 to 2013” or “Natural Disaster Areas, June 2011.”

In a way, the book, which will be presented by authors David Todd and Jonathan Ogren at BookPeople on Thursday, is a sequel to “The Texas Legacy Project: Stories of Courage and Conservation,” also co-authored by Todd.

That book, an oral history of the state’s 20th century environmental struggles, was about Texas’ shift from a rural state to an urban one as the civil rights movement stirs and industrialization booms.

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“The Texas Landscape Project,” published by Texas A&M University Press, is more data-driven, full of meticulously cited empirical observations. A chapter about the growth of Texas highways and migration into the state, for example, includes this factoid: “U-Haul now reports that many Texas towns are found near the top of its list of US one-way truck rental destinations, including Houston (#1), San Antonio (#5), Austin (#6), and Dallas (#12).”

The book revels in the arcane: the increase in Chinese tallow tree in an East Texas preserve, or the growth of second-hand-smoke protections across the state. But these are meant to illuminate greater truths about Texas. The section on imported fire ants — “a certified member of the world of unwelcome pests,” write the authors — delves into their spread across the country and the state, the difficulties of getting rid of invasive species and the impressive resilience of the species.

A whole section is dedicated to “Upsets,” or unplanned pollution, often from refineries or manufacturing plants, and the consequences of climate change are also featured — but the tone tends to be gently explanatory.

“We try not to be Pollyannaish,” Todd said. “These are deep-seated problems, but I don’t want to be hysterical about it.”

There are stories, too, with happy endings: the recovery of bison and of brown pelicans, for instance.

“If every story is despair it’s hard to have hope and faith,” Todd said.

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The scion of a ranching family long associated with conservation matters, and a lawyer by training, Todd, who lives in Travis Heights, has spearheaded efforts to clear invasive plants from Stacy Park and Blunn Creek to restore ecological diversity.

He founded the Texas Conservation History Association of Texas and has served on the boards of a handful of environmental groups.

His partner on the project, Ogren, is a conservation and environmental planner, cartographer and a University of Texas lecturer.

“The book has a broad spectrum of appeal,” Ogren said — a handy reference for teachers, students, policymakers and anyone else who wants to know about the history and complexities of Texas ecosystems.

“These are all dynamic systems we all care about,” Ogren said.

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