Tracking back over the exploratory path of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Daniel B. Botkin, a renowned ecologist, describes numerous differences between what they observed and what he and others see today. Using his scientific expertise, Botkin depicts the geographical, ecological, and environmental changes that have transpired over time. He notes that the prairie grasslands and the forests of the Pacific Northwest are now virtually gone. The presence of many native plants and animals, such as the buffalo, which Lewis and Clark described as existing in abundance have been vastly reduced in number by the settlement of the American West. With the building of dams and the implementation of flood control and conservation measures, many streams and rivers, such as the Missouri, have been significantly altered from their original course. Geological forces, including earthquakes, volcanoes, weathering, and erosion have greatly changed the landscape.
The contributions made by Botkin with this book are threefold: his extraction of valuable scientific information from the journals of Lewis and Clark, his ability to make insightful modern-day observations, and his message for humans to take wiser, better care of the natural environment. Although Beyond the Stony Mountains: Nature in the American West from Lewis and Clark to Today suffers from occasional misinformation and from trying to cover a vast variety of topics in a relatively few pages, it is definitely an intriguing, stimulating read. The numerous maps and photographs, many in color, provide insights that greatly enhance the reading.