Natural history of eastern Texas

Land of Bears and Honey, by Joe C. Truett and Daniel W. Lay. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press. 176 pp. $12.95.

This is an impassioned but awkward book about the natural history of East Texas, that part of America's second-largest state bordered by Louisiana in the east and the Navasota River in the west, and stretching as far south as Galveston and north to Henderson, Smith, Rusk, and Panola Counties.

When Stephen Austin, who had just received permission of the Spanish government to form a colony in Texas (later to be the state capital), he described East Texas: ''The general face of the country from within five miles of the Sabine to Nacogdoches is gently rolling and very much resembles the Barrens of Kentucky, except that the growth of timber is larger and not so bushy....''

And that, it appears, was the biggest problem of East Texas, or so Joe C. Truett and Daniel W. Lay have it in ''Land of Bears and Honey.'' They tell us about a land populated heavily by bears, bees, red wolves, parakeets, ivory-billed woodpeckers, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and much more, a land that has been drastically altered by the hand of man.

The villains in this tale are the loggers. East Texas was full of piney woods , pines that were tall and straight and without many branches - a logger's dream. They went to work. What happened, finally, is a familiar story: a landscape and wildlife habitat changed nearly beyond repair. Truett, an ecologist, and Lay, for 40 years a wildlife biologist, are bothered by this - as well they should be - and their lament for this lost world echoes repeatedly throughout ''Land of Bears and Honey.''

The problem with ''Land of Bears and Honey'' is not the authors' sentiments, opinions, or information - and there's plenty of each - but the book's form. The narrator shifts far too frequently; episodes of interest are given short shrift.

What Truett and Lay's book lacks in execution it almost makes up for in spirit. The story of what we have done to our land and animals needs to be told again and again, and ''Land of Bears and Honey'' does it effectively.

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