Skip to main content

The Vanishing Present

Wisconsin’s Changing Lands, Waters, and Wildlife

Straddling temperate forests and grassland biomes and stretching along the coastline of two Great Lakes, Wisconsin contains tallgrass prairie and oak savanna, broadleaf and coniferous forests, wetlands, natural lakes, and rivers. But, like the rest of the world, the Badger State has been transformed by urbanization and sprawl, population growth, and land-use change. For decades, industry and environment have attempted to coexist in Wisconsin—and the dynamic tensions between economic progress and environmental protection makes the state a fascinating microcosm for studying global environmental change.
The Vanishing Present brings together a distinguished set of contributors—including scientists, naturalists, and policy experts—to examine how human pressures on Wisconsin’s changing lands, waters, and wildlife have redefined the state’s ecology. Though they focus on just one state, the authors draw conclusions about changes in temperate habitats that can be applied elsewhere, and offer useful insights into future of the ecology, conservation, and sustainability of Wisconsin and beyond.
A fitting tribute to the home state of Aldo Leopold and John Muir, The Vanishing Present is an accessible and timely case study of a significant ecosystem and its response to environmental change.

536 pages | 18 color plates, 43 halftones, 7 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Biological Sciences: Botany, Conservation, Ecology

Earth Sciences: Environment

Geography: Environmental Geography


“Our cultural obsession with unlimited growth has a dark side and that is the inexorable environmental deterioration that accompanies economic expansion. Habitat destruction is obvious, but less obvious human interventions such as pollution, fire suppression, overabundant deer, and changes in forestry and agricultural practices all extract a price in lost biodiversity. Each disturbing chapter of this retrospective on Wisconsin’s priceless natural heritage is a reminder of how far we are as a society from achieving the nirvana of sustainable development.”

John Terborgh, Duke University

“Ecology is a historical science—or should be, for we can’t understand the present or the future without some understanding of the past. In The Vanishing Present, Donald Waller and Thomas Rooney have put up a trail sign on where ecological overviews need to go. In conceiving and building this anthology, Waller and Rooney show that they are not just top-notch biologists, but rare visionaries, too.  Every region of North America needs such a work, not only in scope but in quality as well.”

Dave Foreman, Executive Director of the Rewilding Institute and author of Rewilding North America

“Written by a collection of the world’s great ecologists, geographers, and wildlife biologists, The Vanishing Present provides an insightful and comprehensive synthesis of the natural and human history of the Wisconsin landscape. By applying an informed historical perspective to interpret the present and anticipate the future of this one region the authors address ecological questions and tackle conservation challenges that are of universal importance. This accessibly written and well-edited volume should be of great interest to professionals, students, and a broad readership interested in understanding the past changes in nature and conserving its many values into the future.”

David Foster, Harvard University

“Don’t just read this book. Read it and do something about our environmental future. Fifty scientists share their knowledge of Wisconsin’s historical past, provide a contemporary view of a dynamic and changing present, and, lacking action, sketch an impoverished future. Study their insights to learn how we can modify our behavior. Join with them in the critical efforts to ensure our ecological health as they state, we owe it our state’s and our children’s future.”

Harold C. Jordahl, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"If you read one inspiring book in 2008, it should be the timely and significant new volume edited by Donald M. Waller and Thomas P. Rooney, entitled The Vanishing Present: Wisconsin’s Changing Lands, Waters, and Wildlife. As I read essays from fifty different scientists about biotic diversity from lichens to lakes, it was like being inside the neck of an hourglass, with the ability to look backward and forward. Just as an hourglass measures the passage of time, The Vanishing Present gives the reader an historical understanding of Wisconsin’s ecology, and the marked transformation it is presently experiencing as well as future impacts."

Edith M. Kadlec | Open Spaces

"Every ecologist, land manager or policymaker in Wisconsin and adjacent areas will this book essential; those living in other parts of the world will wish they had something like it."

Lee E. Frelich | Quarterly Review of Biology

"The Vanishing Present brings together a distinguished set of contributors . . . to examine how human pressures on Wisconsin’s changing lands, waters, and wildlife have redefined the state’s ecology. . . . . The authors draw conclusions about changes in temperate habitats that can be applied elsewhere, and offer useful insights into the future of the ecology, conservation, and sustainibility of Wisconsin and beyond."

Northeastern Naturalist

Table of Contents

List of Contributors
List of Illustrations
List of Plates
Chapter 1. Assembling the Puzzle
Donald M. Waller and Thomas P. Rooney
Part I. Perspectives
Chapter 2. The View from Man Mound
Curt Meine
Chapter 3. The Challenge of Unveiling the Invisible Present
John J. Magnuson
Chapter 4. Thinking like a Flower: Phenology and Climate Change at the Leopold Shack
Sarah D. Wright and Nina Leopold Bradley
Part II. Changing Plant Communities
Chapter 5. Broad-Scale Change in the Northern Forests: From Past to Present
David J. Mladenoff, Lisa A. Schulte, and Janine Bolliger
Chapter 6. Plant Species Diversity in the Once and Future Northwoods
Thomas P. Rooney and Donald M. Waller
Chapter 7. From the Prairie-Forest Mosaic to the Forest: Dynamics of Southern Wisconsin Woodlands
David Rogers, Thomas P. Rooney, and Rich Henderson
Chapter 8. Savanna and Prairie: Requiem for the Past, Hope for the Future
Mark K. Leach
Chapter 9. Plant Communities of Great Lakes Islands
Emmet J. Judziewicz
Chapter 10. Patterns in Wisconsin Lichen Diversity
James P. Bennett
Chapter 11. How Have Wisconsin’s Lichen Communities Changed?
Susan Will-Wolf and Matthew P. Nelsen
Part III. Changing Waters and the Land-Water Interface
Chapter 12. Great Lakes Ecosystems: Invasions, Food Web Dynamics, and the Challenge of Ecological Restoration
James F. Kitchell and Greg G. Sass
Chapter 13. Documenting and Halting Declines of Nongame Fishes in Southern Wisconsin
David W. Marshall and John Lyons
Chapter 14. Change in Wisconsin’s Coastal Wetlands  
Jim Meeker and Gary Fewless 

Chapter 15. Southern Wisconsin’s Herbaceous Wetlands: Their Recent History and Precarious Future
Joy B. Zedler and Kenneth W. Potter
Chapter 16. Shifting Plants in Wisconsin Lakes
Stanley A. Nichols
Chapter 17. Changes in the Wisconsin River and Its Floodplain
Monica G. Turner, Emily H. Stanley, Matthias Bürgi, and David J. Mladenoff
Part IV. Changing Animal Communities
Chapter 18. Changes in Mammalian Carnivore Populations
Adrian P. Wydeven and Charles M. Pils
Chapter 19. Deer as Both a Cause and Reflection of Ecological Change
Scott Craven and Timothy Van Deelen
Chapter 20. Changes in Amphibian and Reptile Communities    
Gary S. Casper
Chapter 21. Two Centuries of Changes in Grassland Bird Populations and Their
Habitats in Wisconsin
David W. Sample and Michael J. Mossman     
Chapter 22. Wisconsin’s Changing Bird Communities   
Stanley A. Temple and John R. Cary
Chapter 23. Changes in the Butterfly and Moth Fauna  
Les Ferge
Part V. Nature Meets Us: The Social and Political Context
Chapter 24. Public Lands and Waters and Changes in Conservation
Mike Dombeck
Chapter 25. Urbanization and Ecological Change in Milwaukee County
Lawrence A. Leitner, John H. Idzikowski, and Gary S. Casper
Chapter 26. Ecological Footprints of Urbanization and Sprawl: Toward a City Ethic
Dave Cieslewicz
Chapter 27. Influences of Policy, Planning, and Management on Ecological Change
Stephen M. Born
Part VI. Trajectories
Chapter 28. Seeking Adaptive Change in Wisconsin’s Ecosystems
Stephen R. Carpenter
Chapter 29. Forecasting Species Invasions in Wisconsin Lakes and Streams
M. Jake Vander Zanden and Jeff T. Maxted
Chapter 30. Nonnative Terrestrial Species Invasions
S. Kelly Kearns
Chapter 31. The Potential Futures of Wisconsin’s Forested Landscapes
Robert M. Scheller and David J. Mladenoff

Chapter 32. The Big Picture
Donald M. Waller
List of Scientific Names

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press