David Blevins’s magnificent photographs and Michael Schafale’s insightful prose create an invaluable book for anyone who loves North Carolina’s natural bounty.

Blevins, photographer and ecologist, and Schafale, community ecologist for the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, offer a lesson in natural communities, a survey of what survives in North Carolina, and hope and advice for the future.

Replete with photographs of landscapes, flora, and fauna, Wild North Carolina makes a handsome coffee-table book. Turn its pages, and you’ll find impressive, quality images. These photos remind us of North Carolina’s natural variety, from the peaks and sheltered coves of the mountains, across the Piedmont and Sandhills, through the spacious Coastal Plain, and on to the sounds and beaches.

But the text is far more than filler around the photos. In language comprehensible for the lay person, but not insulting to those with more knowledge, Schafale explains interconnected natural communities in North Carolina and why they are important not only to their wild inhabitants, but also to humans. Using a classification system developed by the Natural Heritage Program, he describes 27 distinct types of communities, such as spruce-fir forests and wet-pine savannas. He teaches us what to look for when we walk through these areas — rare pondberries in the Coastal Plain and red-cockaded woodpeckers in pine woodlands. He explains the threats to natural communities from careless development, invasive species, suppression of natural fires, and fragmentation of communities into isolated tracts.

Ultimately, Schafale’s guarded optimism and suggestions for individual actions allow us to enjoy Blevins’s photos without thinking of them as haunting images of treasures that will soon vanish. This book is important as well as beautiful.

The University of North Carolina Press. 2011, 176 pages, hardback, $30.

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