Posted by: chrismaser | September 23, 2009



From The Coast To The High Cascades


Chris Maser


Natural history is an inquiry into the secrets of an animal’s life.  By that I mean not only how an animal lives as an individual but also how it relates to other individuals of its own kind, to other kinds of animals, and to its environment as a whole.

One of the early natural historians was Vernon Bailey, who in 1936 published The Mammals And Life Zones Of Oregon, the first comprehensive work on mammals in the State.  From 1962, when I entered graduate school at Oregon State University, until I left active research in 1987, I spent many years following Bailey’s footsteps around the state as I too studied the mammals of Oregon.  Although I had more sophisticated tools at my disposal than did Bailey and therefore learned things beyond his knowledge, I did not in any way improve on the quality of his work.  To this day, I hold in awe the dedication, accuracy, integrity, and insight of Vernon Bailey’s field work.


Pacific shrew

Natural history, in my experience, seems to have been carried out primarily by two kinds of people:  Those who were gentlemen in the true sense of the word (such as Kenneth L. Gordon, Murray L. Johnson, Tracy I. Storer, and Walter P. Taylor) and those who were lovable characters (such as Bill Hamilton Jr. or “Wild Bill,” as he was affectionately known, and Robert M. Storm—the only one of my role models still living).  Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Vernon Bailey; I should very much have liked to.

It is with a real sense of loss that I watch the era of natural history drawing swiftly to a close, an era that allowed a softer personal touch into our relationship with Nature.

Gray-tailed meadow mouse or “vole”

I say this because the natural history that I knew was truly a science of forest, meadow, and fen, of mountain, desert, and sea, where I and others lived for weeks at a time out in the elements with the creatures we studied.  It was a science of mutual relationships in a slower, gentler, quieter period in human history when there was ample time to reflect on a sunrise, a drifting cloud, a passing thought, when the human world was not so intensely competitive and incessantly harried as it is today.

It is thus in the spirit of natural history as I knew it that I pen this book as a tribute not only to the era of science that I loved so much but also to the men and who helped to shape that era and who, as gentleman and character alike, shared it with me.


“Maser’s book describes the land mammals of Oregon that live from the High Cascades [Cascade Mountains] westward, but it also applies to those same species living in similar parts of California, Washington, and British Columbia. . . . Nowhere else, to this reviewer’s knowledge, can one find so much natural history information about so many mammals of the Pacific Northwest, and it is their natural history that makes the mammals functional parts of their ecosystems. The importance of habitat and its connectivity is strongly supported, and rightly so. This work will probably find most use as a supplement to a field guide, or to a more technical book. . . .”—A. S. Mossman, emeritus professor, Humboldt State University, Arcata, California, July/August 1999 issue of Choice


Mantled ground squirrel

“Mammals of the Pacific Northwest is as much a personal journey as it is a natural history of mammals of the region. Most vertebrate ecologists of Maser’s generation grew up as kids fascinated by the animals around them; they crawled through bushes, waded in marshes, and caught everything that came within reach. Few have remained naturalists because science, even vertebrate science, has rapidly moved in the direction of rigorous hypothesis testing, experimental design, and high powered statistical analysis. There seems to be little place for naturalists in this new climate, and that is our loss.

“Few people, scientists or otherwise, have had as extensive and intensive studies and personal interactions with as many mammalian species as Maser. For that reason alone, the book is a treasure trove of fact, observation, and supposition, from the diets of bats to observations of personality differences among individual shrews. In this book, Maser presents a lifetime of observations from a distance to up-close and personal. As Maser himself says in the introduction:  ‘I have now spent over thirty years in a consummate love affair with science—mostly studying mammals in the wild. . . . I have over many years learned to know them.’ Indeed he has.

“Mammals of the Pacific Northwest is not a field guide, and it doesn’t pretend to be one, although most of the information found in field guides is present in this book as well. It is a taxonomically arranged natural history of these animals, interspersed with some delightfully poignant and occasionally hilarious remembrances of particular individual mammals or events, and as such is remarkably readable. Because it is written from the naturalist’s perspective, this is the book that the serious student of mammals should read before going out in the field to observe, trap, or study mammals. To borrow from current vernacular, this book helps one to ‘get inside’ an animal’s head, an ability often lacking in current generations that haven’t had the luxury of many years of patient first-hand observation.

“Maser’s objective was to reach a general audience, and to share his life-long love affair with Pacific Northwest mammals both by presenting his vast storehouse of life history knowledge and by telling interesting (if not endearing) stories of individual animals he has known. I think he has succeeded. Readers will get an enhanced view of what otherwise would be a series of entries in a field guide; I believe this was Maser’s intent. As a professional ecologist, this would be the first source I would want to read if I wanted to learn more about a mammal I planned to study.”—Bruce E. Coblentz, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, 
Oregon State University, 
Corvallis, OR. 
Northwest Science 73:140-141 (1999)

Me, many years ago,  holding a female snowshoe hare.

Photo of Pacific shrew by Bob Smith and Chris Maser. Photo of me by Al Mozajko. Other Photos © by Chris Maser, 2009. All rights reserved.

Mammals of the Pacific Northwest:  From the Coast to the High Cascades. 1998. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR. 406 pp.

If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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  2. It is evident by the look on your face in this picture that you are in your element and completely enjoying the experiance.

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