Customer Reviews: Forest Forensics: A Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape
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on November 7, 2010
Forest forensics is CSI meets AMC. This is wonderful book, if you live in the northeastern US or Canada and spend time in the outdoors. You will come to see the landscape around you in a whole new way - to read the history of the impacts of hurricanes, farming, logging etc. The book has clear descriptions tied to beautiful color plates, so you understand exactly what he's talking about. For example, only large rocks in rock wall indicate that the adjoining land was a hay field, small rocks indicate regular crop cultivation which causes small rocks to surface. Upon first read, even before you take to the field, you will begin to say "Ah ha", as you recall seeing various forms of rock fences, tree forms, or stumps. Not only does he help you read the events of the past, but date them. This book is very accessible and just plain fun. And best of all, while this book helps you answer lots of questions, your observations will reveal a new level of subtly and leave you with even more questions. If you enjoy the woods, whether kayaker, backpacker, weekend hiker or skier, buy this book. You will see the world around you in a new way.
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on April 11, 2011
I liked the two other books I have by Tom Wessels (Reading the Forested Landscape; The Granite Landscape) and thought I would try this one. It's a small book but the coated paper adds weight for the 160 pages. The weight is not a major issue for me but probably would be for long-distance hikers. There are 64 single page photos and 19 photos across 2 facing pages. Photo quality is just fine to very good in nearly all cases. Only two photos didn't work well for me - 4A2 Plow trough adjacent to stone wall, where the break in slope you're supposed to notice unfortunately falls directly in the gutter between the two facing pages, and 5A1 Subtly pillowed and cradled ground - it just looked like pretty flat and featureless ground in this photo, covered with pine needles and oak leaves. It is not easy to photograph subtle landscape features in forest light and shade, so to have issues with only 2 photos in over 80 is not strong criticism. An earlier reviewer was offended by the observation that a flat-topped stump suggests the area was logged. That's a real example certainly, and while there are also more subtle points raised, focusing on them misses the main value of the book to me. It is rare that someone with Tom Wessel's experience in landscape interpretation (or anything else) provides people without that background with the opportunity to participate in his thought process, by sharing publicly what observations he thinks are important, and what his decision-tree logic looks like as he thinks his way through the evidence to answer such questions as what happened, in what order, and when, in an area that is now forest. The heart of the book is in a 7-page section at the beginning, outlining observations/evidence related to Agriculture; Old Growth and Wind; and Logging and Fire evidence. The photographs and brief text are designed to clarify points made in the decision tree statements. You don't need a PhD in forest ecology to use this book, and if you had one you might find it overly simple but as a geologist, it works for me. I found myself saying "aha" as I looked through the photos - thinking of one example after another that I've seen in New England woods over the past 50+ years. His observations about sheep's wool being thick enough to keep them from feeling the barbs in barbed wire fences even helped explain why our bus driver in southern Iceland had to pull over one afternoon a few summers ago and go running back up the road, to untangle a sheep that was caught halfway through the fence along the highway.

I think it's a deceptively simple book, and one that I'm glad to have. I recently met someone who teaches at an environmental school in Jackson Hole, who had studied with Tom Wessels. She confirmed my sense that he would be a great person to spend time in the field with. Until that ever happens, the Forest Forensics book will have to stand in.
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on January 24, 2011
This little volume was of interest as an addition to my personal naturalist library. It was a bit more focused on New England than I anticipated which limits its value here in the Blue Ridge but the general principles are of value.
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on October 19, 2011
This is a take along pocket sized guide for walking. Based on information presented in "Reading the Forested Landscape, a Natural History of New England". These books are amazing in that they point out information left by previous natural events and humans. If a tree falls and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a noise? Yes, and what it says is so simply explained by Wessels. If you have always wanted to know "The Big Picture", here is the first step into understanding. Enjoy... this is a one of a kind book that applies well to anywhere under the sun.

Examples include explinations of the differences between a tree fall caused by wind blow over (thunderstorm, tornado, straight line winds,etc.) , snow loading, dead tree rot, logging and fire kill. Great detail on the differences of tree rotting of pine, cedar, oak, maple, hickory, elm, chestnut. Simple discussion on fence type and wall construction. The hows and whys of early agriculture.
I do suggest strongly to buy both books. Both present new information when used together will guide you into a new world filled with the past.
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This book is visual guide to understanding the landscape of forests in New England. Wessels, an author and college professor, has a long-standing interest in forested landscapes. In a previous book, "Reading the Forested Landscape", Wessels explained how forested landscapes are filled with clues that point to prior land-use history, storms, or fires. In this book, Wessels provides a collection of photographs which illustrate the clues to reading forested landscapes, as well as a key that can be used to interpret the details of what is seen. The book begins with a short introduction and the key, then there are 70 pages of color plates, followed by additional illustrated discussion. The keys and clues are summarized on quick-reference charts at the end of the book, and technical terms are explained in a glossary.

I found this book quite clear and useful. The color photographs and accompanying discussion illustrate Wessel's points very well. The key is easy to follow and unambiguous. The book is very much tied to the landscape and forested history of New England--it would be interesting to see which of Wessels' clues might apply to forests in other parts of the country or world. Overall, this is an excellent reference for woods walkers.
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on January 28, 2013
This is a must have book for anyone who is a woodsman in New England. But first you need to read Tom Wessels first book Reading the Forested Landscape. This book is more of a companion to his first book.
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on August 8, 2014
The author's 1997 "Reading the Forested Landscape: a Natural History of New England" (with its superb supportive illustrations by Brian D. Cohen) is the precursor to "Forest Forensics", the present book. The New England landscape has been subjected for millennia to a progression of greater or lesser disruptions (and recoveries) by both natural and human forces. A major fraction of the forests that had developed and matured in New England over the past half dozen or more millennia since the last ice shield melted away had been only relatively modestly manipulated by the Native Americans. But then over the most recent few centuries, the European settlers cleared much of the existing forest for agriculture, dammed essentially every stream for power at one to several sites, and in time built a seemingly endless reticulation of roads and rail lines. Finally in more recent times, much of the land that had been stripped of its forest cover — done in order to have its surface rocks re-arranged and its topsoil plowed and re-plowed, or else grazed and re-grazed — was some years ago left to nature to return to woodland. The author's intent with his prior "Reading the Forested Landscape" was twofold: on the one hand to describe and explain in ecological terms what had in recent centuries happened to central New England's woodlands of today; and on the other to help the reader determine from a host of on-site clues that past land-use history for any particular woodland in our region. The book succeeded admirably in its first purpose with its clear presentation of New England's natural history enlivened by an abundance of noteworthy insights. The book was less successful as a guide to interpreting the past uses of a present-day central New England woodland, not being sufficiently specific and also clumsy to carry into the field. However, do not lose heart, here is where the author's new book enters the equation.

Thus, the author's more recent "Forest Forensics" is a brilliantly executed companion volume to his earlier "Reading the Forested Landscape", now amply fulfilling the needs of a thoroughly usable field guide. The material is divided into evidences of past agriculture (both crop and pasture), of non-farmed old growth, and of the effects of past wind, fire, and logging events. The book has easy-to-use keys, is replete with superb color photographs (all taken by the author) depicting all of his clues to the past; and then all of this is augmented by a series of so-called quick reference charts. Finally it should be noted that this book would be particularly useful in central New England. — Arthur H. Westing, Putney, Vermont
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on August 6, 2013
The Field Guide to Reading the Forested Landscape is an excellent resource for people who live in areas with second or third growth forests. The Mid-Altantic states have very little virgin forests. I would recommend it for park service people, foresters, ecologists (myself), and people who love the outdoors.
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on October 15, 2013
I always wondered about certain topographical areas that I hike through
and this manual explains it all. I'm very pleased with this book. Very precise
and to the point. Also, a very compact size which you can easily take along
on a hike.
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on April 23, 2012
As someone who loves New England trees and was looking for something more advanced and in-depth than a typical field guide, this book was an exciting, fun and informative find. My teen homeschooled son and I have used this book to identify several forest features and their histories. Two of our favorite "Ah-ha" learnings from this book were the facts that double-trunked trees indicate that the original trunk died, causing two or three branches to dominate as the new trunks. Our second favorite fact was learning about White pine "pasture trees" and that their presence usually indicated that a weevil killed the main shoot, causing the lower branches to compete for dominance. We realized that the weevil infestation actually saved these few huge "pasture trees" from being logged in the 1700's and 1800's, as they could not be used for masts, allowing us to enjoy the few remaining large old growth White pines. The book uses color coded keys, which will take a few minutes to learn. Highly recommended.
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