Golden Bear 

Forgotten Landscapes of California

California ecological history

By Laura Cunningham, 2022.

California has an amazing ecological and cultural heritage. This website (under development) is a virtual tour of my 2010 book (now out of print), which I am presenting as a digital medium for free. 

Here you will learn about California wildlife and ecosystems of the past, and the Indigenous people who lived here and managed the landscapes for thousands of years. You will learn about the grizzlies, tule elk, California condors, abundant salmon, vast bunchbgrasslands and wildflower fields, oak woodlands, fire ecology, and more. 

Plus you will learn how to go outside and discover the secrets of how to uncover what your neighborhood was like a thousand years ago. Field skills, natural history, biology, paleontology, ecology, cultural history, art, field sketching, note-taking, observation, mapping, and more are tools that we will learn about in order to read the past. 

This knowledge can then be used to restore habitats, manage resources better, and look towards the future of how people in California can learn to live with the land in the most sustainable way.

Explore the abundant natural heritage of the Golden State back in time, with grizzlies, whales, salmon, snowmelt water lakes in the Central Valley, and ecological processes such as fire, flood, and climate change. Understand how Native people have been successfully managing these landscapes sustainably for thousands of years, and how we can learn to listen to their teachings.

California grizzlies dine on a whale carcass, hundreds of years ago on East Bay mudflats, San Francisco Bay Area. How many species of gulls can you find here, using a bird field guide? Bald eagles also come to the feast.  Acrylic on paper.

A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California, written and illustrated by Laura Cunningham was published as a print book in 2010 by Malcom Margolin, Founder of Heyday Books, and a second edition later. It is now out of print, but Laura is bringing you the original expanded full manuscript online as a distance learning curriculum. Because during these COVID-19 times we need to expand learning opportunities as much as possible. You get bonus material about making a book, art lessons, and updates on the information!

Yokuts-Chumash trade event in Cuyama Valley, South Coast Range. I thank all my Indigenous teachers for their wisdom and discussions about how California was thriving with diverse people--300 languages and dialects--and the land managed in a sophisticated manner (such as with cultural burning), for thousands of years before European contact. Detail of oil on paperboard.  

This rich living cultural heritage, continuing today in important ways concerning how California is managed into the future, needs to be better taught at all levels in educational materials. See the Fire chapter for more on the details of this painting.


The chapters of the book are digitized in this website. What is fun about this is I can expand the content to include material that was edited out of the printed book due to paper-print cost and space limitations. And new material can be added. In our current era, online media have become much more sophisticated. So stay tuned for an expanded digital version of A State of Change! Free to all who care about California's natural world and a sustainable future living here.

Newsletter in the Future--Stay Tuned!

I will be sending out a newsletter about this website, updates, and let everyone know when new chapters are added to this website.

San Francisco looking towards Nob Hill and across the Bay to Oaland and Berkeley, a thousand years ago. Oil on panel.
Giant grizzly in the hills above San Fernando Valley just north of Hollywood, California, hundreds of years ago. Oil on panel. 

In this curriculum you will learn how I reconstructed such a scene from historical accounts, oral history interviews, scientific research papers, and field trips. Natural history, science, and art intersect in important ways--learn more here!

The first edition hard cover book for sale at a Bay Area book store in 2011. (I do not like being associated with a book on missions due to the associated genocide of Indigenous tribes during European colonization, but the layout was not my choice.) Otherwise I was honored to be included on this table of Californiana.

All text and images Copyright 2023 Laura Cunningham unless otherwise noted.