Though almost no one knows it, the most diverse forests and aquatic systems in the USA lie in Alabama. Described as America's Amazon, Alabama has more species per square mile than any other state. Its rivers are home to more species of fish, crayfish, salamanders, mussels, snails and turtles than any other aquatic system in North America. And the contest isn't even close. California, for instance, has nine species of crayfish, while Alabama has 84. The 11 states that are drained by the Colorado River system are collectively home to 26 species of fish, while Alabama is home to 350 species of fish.
But the wild places of the state are also under siege. Alabama has suffered more aquatic extinctions than any other state. In fact, more than half of all extinctions in the United States since the 1800s happened in Alabama, which has been logged, mined, and poisoned by a succession of industries. In this compelling portrait of the rough history of Alabama's rivers and the lands they flow through, Raines makes a case that more has been lost in Alabama than any other state thanks to the destructive hand of man. The version of Alabama that exists in the mind of the public – lynchings and fire hoses, cotton fields and steel mills – comes from things we've done to Alabama, and has for too long overshadowed the stunning natural splendor of the place.
Saving America's Amazon highlights this other Alabama, a wild place of incredible diversity, of ancient gardens and modern edens. The ascendant view among scientists today is that Alabama's wild places should be treasured and protected as one of the richest and most diverse regions on the globe, an internationally important "biodiversity hotspot". But that is not what is happening on the ground in Alabama, which spends less on environmental protection than any other state. Instead, the constant stream of newly discovered species struggles to keep pace with the number of creatures being declared forever lost. The time of reckoning is here for the people of Alabama, who must decide whether their state will wear the crown for being the most diverse place on the continent, or the crown for the place with the most extinctions. One thing is certain, Alabama cannot lay claim to both crowns forever.
"In this richly illustrated book, Ben Raines persuasively argues that time is running out for Alabama to save its magnificent natural heritage."
– Bird Watching
"A spirited call for preserving Alabama wilderness [...] a fine work of environmental journalism."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Ben Raines is a gifted journalist whose work is informed by hard experience and deep passion. Saving America's Amazon is an eloquent cri de coeur for one of the world's most extraordinary natural wonders."
– John Sledge, author of The Mobile River and The Gulf of Mexico: A Maritime History
"In Saving America's Amazon, Ben Raines masterfully recounts the environmental history of the Mobile Basin, describing its varied landscapes, myriad life forms, and its bounty in vivid detail."
– Hank Bart, director, Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute
"In this eloquent book about one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, Ben Raines writes with a compelling urgency that is both justifiable and heartfelt, reminding us that the quality of human life is inseparable from the ecological health of a place."
– Jack E. Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea
"It is nature's and humanity's great misfortune that God put the entire Mobile River basin and estuary – our nation's most diverse ecosystem – in Alabama, the state with America's weakest environmental laws. Ben Raines astutely calculates that Alabama cannot long continue as both national leader in aquatic diversity and the leader in the extinction of aquatic creatures. This beautifully written book is an inspiring summons to protect a besieged world-class ecological treasure."
– Robert Kennedy Jr.
"Native Alabamian Ben Raines's love of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay jump out from every page of this portrait of one of the nation's richest estuaries. From deep in the swamps to the Gulf beaches, this book shines a spotlight on Alabama's rich natural world. For too long, those riches have been overlooked due to public perception of Alabama and her history. Saving America's Amazon shakes off that old way of thinking and invites America to meet the real Alabama."
– Winston Groom
"What a fine volume! This book on one of America's great overlooked natural treasures reminds us that we need to make sure it is preserved intact, for our world needs all the biodiversity it can find."
– Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
"With a seasoned reporter's expert instincts, Ben Raines gives this hotspot of biological diversity the credit it's due [...] This book is a gift to Alabama and to the nation."
– Tim Palmer, author and photographer of America's Great River Journeys, Rivers of America, and other books