Grad Student’s Book Welcomes Visitors to ‘Conifer Country’ - Humboldt State Now

Grad Student’s Book Welcomes Visitors to ‘Conifer Country’

To Michael Kauffmann, a Biology graduate student and lecturer at HSU, the Klamath Mountain region is more than just a great place to hike. It’s a museum, he says, that tells the stories of over 3,500 species of plants.

In his new book, “Conifer Country,” Kauffmann provides a natural history and hiking guide to the biodiversity of the region—as seen through the eyes of conifers.

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A foxtail pine highlights this view of the Trinity Alps. Photo Courtesy Michael Kauffmann.

The leaves of “Conifer Country,” made from 100 percent recycled paper, contain 29 hiking trails spanning the Klamath Mountain region of northern California and southern Oregon. Each trail acts as a tour of the 35 ancient conifers that live in the area. And the book itself, Kauffmann says, is a project 10 years in the making.

Roughly a decade ago, Kauffmann moved to Humboldt County to pursue his teaching credential. After a few of weeks living in and exploring the area the natural beauty hooked him. “I was blown away by what I’d seen in some of my first journeys,” he says. “Luckily I didn’t go up into the mountains and never come back.”

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Michael Kauffman is a graduate student in the Biology program. Photo Courtesy Michael Kauffmann.

Kauffmann finished his teaching credential, found work as a middle school science and math teacher, and got involved with the Redwood Science Project at HSU. On campus his work includes promoting science education, developing curriculum for the Natural History Museum and advising future science teachers attending HSU. Currently, he maintains his position with the project, teaches a science course for future teachers, and has nearly finished his master’s degree in Biology. He also spends three days a week teaching with the Fortuna Elementary School District.

The completion of this book satisfies requirements of Kauffmann’s Master’s degree and is an example of the kind of work coming out of the new pathway in the Biology Department.

Professor Jeffrey White, Kauffmann’s advisor, says projects like this provide unique opportunities for students and the community. “I am very excited to be a part of this new option that trains and financially supports students in the art of communicating rigorous science to broad audiences,” says White.

As an educator, Kauffmann began to notice the disconnect between his students and the natural world. This realization, coupled with his own love of backpacking, led him to write “Conifer Country.” In addition to writing the book and creating the range maps and engaging descriptions for all the region’s conifers, Kauffman snapped each photograph and designed the book’s layout. Although created with a wide audience in mind, the book is geared toward people who want to get outside, learn about the Klamath Mountains, and develop a better understanding of the natural world.

Of the 29 hiking trails highlighted in “Conifer Country,” Kauffmann says, the most popular is Canyon Creek. This demanding, 11-mile round-trip hike near the town of Junction City, Calif., showcases 14 different conifers. Among them is the rare Brewer spruce, which only exists in the Klamath region.

“Conifers are often windswept and charismatic,” Kauffmann says. “I like to think of the mountain conifers as the crowning jewels of the Klamath.” By telling the stories of these ancient trees, Kauffmann is also telling the story of how they came to be in the region, why they survive in the places they do, and their relationships to all the wild things that live here.

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“Conifer Country” will be available in mid-May by Backcountry Press. Photo Courtesy Backcountry Press.

In addition to providing a natural history lesson, Kauffmann hopes to foster a connection between people and the natural world. “I wanted to connect people to nature by helping them have a more authentic experience with it,” he says. “If you’re engaged with the natural world, you’re going to care more about it.”

“It’s an exciting way for people to understand northern California and southwestern Oregon, get outside, get to know some plants and animals, and have fun.” More than anything, he says, the book is another way to help people say, “Wow.”

“Conifer Country,” will be available in mid-May through Backcountry Press. Pre-orders are available now until May 10th with a 20 percent discount on the cover price. For more information, visit http://backcountrypress.com/store/deals.html.

The book will also be available for purchase in mid-May at the HSU Natural History Museum.