Abbie Gascho Landis | An Island Press Author

Abbie Gascho Landis

Abbie Gascho Landis is a writer, veterinarian, and naturalist. She has won Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies 2015 Essay Award, an Arthur DeLong Writing Award, and was a finalist for the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award. Landis holds a bachelor’s degree in English and biology from Goshen College and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from The Ohio State University. Her writing has been published in Pinchpenny Press, Full Grown People, and Paste Magazine.

It's Not All Bad: Island Press Authors Share Good News

It can seem like every news story spells bad news for the environment—from the ongoing clean water crisis in Flint, Michigan to...

It can seem like every news story spells bad news for the environment—from the ongoing clean water crisis in Flint, Michigan to Earth's hottest summer ever recorded. But it's not all doom-and-gloom. With so many dedicated people working on environmental issues, there are also stories of hope. We asked Island Press authors to share good news in their field. Check out the inspiring stories they shared below and if you know of other environmental success stories, share them in the comments.

Abbie Gascho Landis, author of Immersion:

Last summer, mussel biologists and crew worked to relocate over 100,000 mussels, many federally protected, prior to the construction of the I-74 bridge over the Mississippi River. There's also the creation of the Fairmount Water Works' Mussel Hatchery in Pennsylvania, and the proposed listing of the yellow lance mussel as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. While it's sad that the mussel needs to be listed, the act of listing it means that its habitat (which is significant!) might benefit from more protections. Better to list a declining species than to ignore it. There's also this video of mussel sexy time, which is awesome, if not newsy.






Laurie Ann Mazur, editor of the Urban Resilience Project and Resilience Matters:

Left behind by the globalized economy, Buffalo New York has lost more than half its population since 1950. By 2005, when the community group People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo was founded, West Side residents were struggling with unemployment, rampant blight and high energy costs.  

At that time, there were an estimated 23,000 vacant homes in Buffalo.  PUSH took on a state housing agency that was using vacant buildings to speculate on Wall Street, and got the buildings turned over to the community—with funding to fix them up. Next, PUSH brought together hundreds of community residents to craft a plan for a large, blighted area. The result is a 25-square block Green Development Zone (GDZ) that is now a model of energy efficient, affordable housing. PUSH and its non-profit development company rehabilitate homes in the GDZ, installing efficiency upgrades like insulation and geothermal heating that dramatically lower residents’ utility bills.  PUSH also won a New York State grant to build 46 new homes—including a “net zero” house that produces as much energy as it consumes.

The GDZ doubles as a jobs program. Through its construction projects, PUSH has cultivated a growing network of contractors who are committed to hiring locally. And PUSH successfully advocated for New York’s Green Jobs - Green New York program, which seeks to create 35,000 jobs while providing energy upgrades and retrofits for 1 million homes across the state.

Excerpted from an Urban Resilience Project piece in Yes! Magazine by Taj James and Rosa Gonzales


Carlton Reid, author of Bike Boom and Roads Were Not Built For Cars:

There have been a gazillion studies which say how cycling is good for public health, but one new one is a biggie—with a sample size of more than 250,000 Brits—and led to global media coverage. The Scottish study was published in the British Medical Journal and, staggeringly, it said cycling to work lowers the risk of dying by 40 percent. If medical science created a pill with that sort of impact it would be quickly bigger than Viagra! Cancer is a huge worry for the Western world, yet cycling to work halves your chance from dying from it. Amazing, really.






Island PressMichael S. Carolan, author of No One Eats Alone:

If you go back to the first 100 years of this nation, our food system was built on people sharing seeds. That was, in fact, the *only* way new seeds were acquired—that and saving seeds from the prior year's harvest. Seed saving and sharing is not only becoming a lost art, it is also illegal in certain instances.   

For example, take the case, from 2014, when the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture informed a seed library in its state that they were in violation of a 2004 state law—the Pennsylvania Seed Act of 2004. The seed library, its officials were told, fell under the definition of a “seed distributor,” which meant they needed to start acting like one. That required that they meet stringent labeling requirements. The labels, which need to be in English, must clearly state the name of the species or commonly accepted name of kind of plant. If it is a hybrid plant, the label must explain something about whether the seed has been treated. Lastly, labels must include the name and address of the seed-sharing entity. As a seed distributor, the library was also told they must conduct germination and purity analyses.  

On a more encouraging note: In September 2016, the Seed Exchange Democracy Act (Assembly Bill 1810) was signed into law in California. The bill amends the “seed law” chapter of the state’s Food and Agricultural Code thus exempting seed libraries from burdensome testing and labeling requirements.

The Sustainable Economic Law Center offers a toolkit of resources to help concerned citizens make the Seed Exchange Democracy Act a reality in their own state.  It includes sample legislation, local resolutions, letters of support, and more.


Joy Zedler, co-author of Foundations of Restoration Ecology:

Restoration ecology and our book on its foundations support new pathways for restoring watersheds to protect wetlands. After decades of teaching conservation and restoration of ecosystems, I'm using the wisdom captured in our book to practice what I've been preaching. I'm one of the fortunate few who have wetlands in our back yards. I live near intact natural ecosystems among citizens who tax themselves so our township can purchase development rights and create conservation easements. The challenge is to extend voluntary approaches upstream to achieve watershed restoration goals and protect downstream wetland gems. The solution won't be top-down governance in this state—or in this country at the present time—but the solution could be bottom-up watershed-care based on strong science and wetland ethics.




Donald A. Falk, co-author of Foundations of Restoration Ecology

To me the really big and encouraging news is that ecosystem restoration is understood increasingly as a central component of global efforts to reverse anthropogenic climate change. This means that the streams of ecological restoration, ecosystem and biodiversity protection, and climate action are fusing, creating a powerful incentive to both protect and restore ecosystems which are absorbing at least a quarter of all GHG emissions annually (for an essay on this, see Ecosystems are critical to solving the global climate crisis).

summer reading

Get Them While They're Hot: Island Press Summer Reading Picks

Summer is here! Whether that means slathering on the sunscreen or seeking refuge from the heat in an air conditioned room, this season means one thing for all bookworms: summer reading lists. To help get yours started, our staff have shared their...

Summer is here! Whether that means slathering on the sunscreen or seeking refuge from the heat in an air conditioned room, this season means one thing for all bookworms: summer reading lists. To help get yours started, our staff have shared their favorite Island Press books, past and present. Check out our recommendations, and share your favorite Island Press summer read in the comments below. 

1.) Nature's Allies by Larry A. Nielsen

In Nature's AlliesLarry Nielson shares eight riveting biographies of great conservationists. His profiles show how these diverse leaders—including a Native American who was arrested more than 50 times and the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize—brought about extraordinary change for the environment. These stories are powerful, engaging reads for anyone who wants to be inspired to make a difference. But you don't have to take Island Press' word for it...Nature's Allies was also recently recommended as a New York Public Library staff pick

2.) River Notes by Wade Davis

In this remarkable blend of history, science, and personal observation, acclaimed author Wade Davis tells the story of America’s Nile, how it once flowed freely and how human intervention has left it near exhaustion. A beautifully told story of historical adventue and natural beauty, River Notes is a fascinating journey down the river and through mankind's complicated and destructive relationship with one of its greatest natural resources. Kyler Geoffroy, Online Marketing Manager of the Urban Resilience Project, says this book is the perfect summer read because "we need to stop and appreciate America’s most iconic waterway now more than ever."

3.) Bike Boom by Carlton Reid

As Vice President and Executive Editor Heather Boyer says, "there's no better time than summer to think about how to maintain the increase in interest in urban biking (and try to retain any funding for it in infrastructure budget)." A follow-up to his "fascinating" Roads Were Not Built for CarsBike Boom picks up where that story left off: immersing readers in cycling advocacy from 1906 to the doldrums of the 1980s. It is an extensively researched, at times humorous journey through time, flush with optimism for what could be the next, greatest bike boom of all.

4.) Natural Defense by Emily Monosson

Bugs and germs are big problems—and they’re evolving. But in the fight to protect our food and health, bugs and germs may also be part of the solution. Natural Defense by Emily Monosson is the first book to bring readers into this exciting new world, highlighting cutting-edge solutions such as pheromones that send crop-destroying moths into a misguided sexual frenzy, and proteins that promise targed destruction of infectious bacteria. Brooke Borel, contributing editor at Popular Science had this to say about the book: "With deft prose and fascinating anecdotes, Monosson’s survey of the latest scientific research leaves us in awe of humankind’s ingenuity."

5.) Immersion by Abbie Gascho Landis

If summer is the time for exploring neighborhood creeks and streams, Immersion by Abbie Gascho Landis is the summer read for you. A breathtaking journey into the world of freshwater mussels, Immersion explores the hidden lives of mussels in our rivers and streams, and asks whether our capacity to love these alien creatures can power us to protect freshwater for humans and nature alike. Blending science with artful storytelling, Immersion takes readers from perilous river surveys and dry riverbeds to laboratories where endangered mussels are raised one precious life at a time. Production Assistant Elise Ricotta says this is the perfect book to read at the beach or lake.

 6.) Seeking the Sacred Raven by Mark Jerome Walters

Associate Editor and Rights Manager Rebecca Bright picked up Seeking the Sacred Raven while she was preparing for an interview to intern at Island Press (we won't say how many years ago). The book tells the story of Hawaii's 'Alla, a member of the raven family that once flourished on the islands and now survives only in captivity. Mark Jerome Walters chronicles the history of the birds' interactions with humans throughout the centuries, painting a picture of one species' decline that resonates today, as many others face the same fate. The first Island Press book she ever read, Rebecca found the book to be "both fascinating and heartbreaking."

7.) Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis

As you fire up the grill for summer barbeques and head to your local farmer's market, consider reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis, a sensory-rich journey through two hundred years of making dinner. From eighteenth-century gardens and historic cookbooks to calculated advertising campaigns and sleek supermarket aisles, Vileisis chronicles profound changes in how Americans have shopped, cooked, and thought about their food for five generations. Revealing how knowledge of our food has been lost and how it might now be regained, Kitchen Literacy promises to make us think differently about what we eat.

8.) Water is for Fighting Over by John Fleck

Water is for Fighting Over by John Fleck makes for perfect reading while sitting by the pool, river, or ocean. In it, he offers a unique, fresh perspective on the catastrophe narrative of the West, showcasing how this region is less of a battlefield and more of a place where individuals and communities find common ground amid a changing geography. This book shows that even in the depths of the worst droughts, positive solution stories can still be found. Vice President and Director of Marketing & Sales Julie Marshall likes "John’s thoughtful and balanced approach to the issue. I also really appreciate the fact he has such deep knowledge based on his many years covering the issues in the west. It gives him great credibility but also makes his explanations of the issues and solutions seem solid based on 'all the facts' and not just a superficial assessment." 

9.) Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon 

While walking around and enjoying the summer sunshine, don't forget to pack Within Walking Distance by Philip Langdon. In it, he takes an in-depth look at six walkable communities—and the citizens, public officials, and planners who are making them satisfying places to live. Civil Engineering said "Within Walking Distance shines...a warm, personal, and heartening depiction of our power to shape our communities in a positive way when we set our minds to it." 

10.) Tibet Wild by George B. Schaller

Hungry for adventure? Tibet Wild is George B. Schaller's account of three decades of exploration in the most remote stretches of Tibet: the wide, sweeping rangelands of the Chang Tang and the hidden canyons and plunging ravines of the southeastern forests. Throughout, it is an intimate journey through the changing wilderness of Tibet, guided by the careful gaze and unwavering passion of a life-long naturalist. Editor Courtney Lix loves the book because "it transports you to the wildest regions in Tibet, from describing the daily challenges of being a field biologist, to admiring breathtaking landscapes, and encounters with rare and beautiful creatures." 

What are your top Island Press reads? Share them below, so others can add them to their summer reading lists. 

Island Press | Photo Courtesy of Abbie Gascho Landis

Mussel Fascination: A Conversation with Abbie Gascho Landis

We caught up with author Abbie Gascho Landis to talk about Immersion, freshwater mussels, and our relationship to the natural world

From reviews in Science and Nature to high praise from Carl Safina, E.O. Wilson, and Alan Weisman, everyone is buzzing about Immersion. We caught up with author Abbie Gascho Landis to talk about the book, freshwater mussels, and our relationship to the natural world. Read our conversation below, and don't forget to read Chapter 1 of Immersion in last week's #ForewordFriday.

You’re a veterinarian, meaning your background is with vertebrates like cats and dogs. What first captivated you about freshwater mussels? Was it a single moment, or did it happen over time? Since then, what has sustained your interest? 

Submerging my face in a creek for the first time stands out as a revelatory moment for me. I had no idea such beautiful animals lived inside this drab-looking creek that I had ignored while driving over the bridge. Although my first mussel encounter was memorable, I actually fell in love with mussels over time.

If I were to summarize my journey with freshwater mussels in one sentence, it would be, “Wait, what?” I have said this repeatedly while talking with my husband or exploring a creek or reading about mussel science. Mussels make me stop in my tracks and light up my curiosity and wonder. Studying mussels has been similar to practicing veterinary medicine in that my patients frequently amaze me in one way or another. Also, mussels attract great people and live in intriguing places, so spending time with mussel biologists and in the field always energizes my mussel fascination.

Island Press | Photo Courtesy of Abbie Gascho Landis
Mussel Assemblage at Paint Rock Riverin Alabama. Photo Courtesy of Abbie Gascho Landis

In the book you write: “I think of mussels as I watch the kitchen spigot run.” What do you mean by this? What can mussels tell us about our own water supply and consumption habits?

For me, learning about mussels coincided with learning precisely where our tap water came from in our Alabama town. This connection was not an extrapolation or a metaphor. A creek I snorkeled was the actual city water supply and received the treated municipal wastewater. When drought and over usage dry such a creek, both mussels and humans experience the shortage. When we contaminate the creek, we damage everyone using that water downstream. These lovely little animals sit in our drinking water and our wastewater, filtering it and suffering from it. The least I could do was think of them while I filled my glass with part of their home.

Most conversations around freshwater in the US revolve around the West, but your book brings readers to the creeks and streambeds of the American Southeast. Why is it important to pay attention to this region? What can it teach us about water throughout the rest of the country?

Having viewed the American Southeast as eternally lush and damp almost to a fault, I was floored to learn about its ongoing water shortage problems. One large river basin, draining the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint Rivers, sits at the junctions of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and at the heart of decades-long legal battles known as the Tri-State Water Wars. Human water demand, especially agriculture, outpaces natural recharge, especially during droughts. Climate change is causing more frequent droughts, taking a heavier toll on groundwater resources. Freshwater mussels—more diverse in the Southeast than anywhere else in the world—die in drying creeks, invoking the Endangered Species Act to protect their habitat. Water issues in the Southeast pose challenges both similar to and unique from the American West, and they suggest that our freshwater conversations have more urgency than we think, even in areas that might seem impervious to struggles over water. Water security has more to do with how much water we use than with how much water is available.

Island Press | Photo Courtesy of Abbie Gascho Landis
Heelsplitter. Photo Courtesy of Abbie Gascho Landis

Immersion is about mussels, but the book is also full of human characters, including scientists, landowners, police officers, and your own young children. What can freshwater mussels teach us about our relationships to other people? To the environment?

Studying mussels is excellent practice in understanding complex, overlapping relationships. Mussels live at the intersection of land and water, shaped by the character of the river bottom as much as the water flow and quality. We often divide our environment—land or water, urban or rural, mine or yours—but rivers cross what we view as boundaries. At river bottom, mussels can give us a unique angle on how the landscape and water flowing through it connect us.

As our daughter Stella has observed, “Mussels are breakable, so we have to be gentle.” Mussels, being sensitive, can draw our attention to river problems that affect everybody. They teach us to heed and protect the most vulnerable among us to keep the whole system healthy. When we learn to value a thriving, diverse mussel community as the sign of a healthy river, we are practicing a more gentle way of treating the environment, animals, and, perhaps, each other

Nearly seventy percent of freshwater mussel species are imperiled, but Immersion is not despondent. What gives you hope for freshwater mussels in the US?

Besides simply being an incorrigible optimist, I find hope in places like Alabama’s Paint Rock River, where improvements in land use along the river valley have revived mussel populations from nearly flat-lining to the heartbeat of a healthy river. I find hope in collaborative watershed groups, working across political or business interests to keep rivers flowing.

I also find hope in mussel biologists raising new populations of nearly extinct mussel species, then reintroducing hundreds or thousands of them to healthy rivers. I find hope in projects like the summer 2016 relocation of nearly half a million mussels prior to building a bridge over the Mississippi River. I get a little teary when I imagine such attention to so many small, valued lives. As the poet Jane Hirshfield wrote, “What is usual is not what is always.” Each exception to the trend of damaging mussels and their rivers nudges mussels—and our water supply—towards safety.

Is there anything you found in the course of researching and writing this book that surprised you?

So many things. Small facts about mussels surprised me. For example, many mussel species will actively burrow down or crawl towards water to try to survive drought. And a mussel closing their shell is an active process, which happens reflexively if they sense danger—a vibration, passing shadow, or noxious chemical. Also surprising to me was the breadth and depth of change humans have caused in streams of all sizes. Only two percent of streams in the United States are freely flowing, thanks to dams, and many carry contaminants, including pharmaceuticals or excessive nutrients.

The combination of these surprising things, though, is what truly astounded me. Given their exquisite sensitivity and our decimation of their homes, I am happily amazed that freshwater mussels continue to exist at all.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

 It would be really neat for readers to carry with them some images and stories of mussels or rivers that they can’t help describing at picnics and cocktail parties. If some of those conversations fuel further curiosity about river animals or our water supply, I will be thrilled.

And while I’m hoping: Some experience of this book might overflow into larger discussions about how we can work together towards healthy rivers so that mussels and our kids will have clean, plentiful fresh water.