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One of the top news stories currently happening has to do with wildfires in California. Strong winds, previous droughts, hilly terrain, these all make it very prone to large fires which can be difficult to put out. Fires are not new to that part of the country. If you live there, then fire is a natural part of the environment and most likely a part of your day in ways you may not always think about – choice of landscaping and building materials for example.
If you do not live in this particular area, you more than likely do not think of how prone that environment is to fire. It is doubtful you think of it at all.
That seems to be the way it goes with natural resources. They are all around us, we live in them yet rarely talk about them or think about them. Till something goes wrong. Or you are out of conversation at a family holiday meal. Then either everyone has an opinion, often a very strong one, or are ignorant on the topic, yet still have an opinion.
Fire is not the only natural resource which brings out strong feelings. Wolves do the same thing. Especially if you live in one of the western states.
As one who does not reside in the west, nor grew up there, my view of wolves is from a natural resource professional standpoint – balance is a good thing; putting back what we took out can only help begin to bring back that balance.
While this sounds great on paper (0r the computer screen), at what point in the past are we aiming to return to? Before the government began the campaign to eradicate wolves from the forests? Before Europeans began settling the continent? At the end of the last ice age? Which of these is the ‘ideal’ and which is the one we should aim for?
If there is one thing we, as humans, should have learned a long time ago it is this – we do not know everything. Often we find things more of a mess when we try to ‘fix’ them rather than letting them be. We act with what we think is the vast knowledge gained by experience or with the newfound scientific research of the era. Only later, we find out we were wrong. By then, life has moved on. Reality has adjusted to the change. Now a new question arises – should be try to fix what we broke, or let nature take its course and fix things on its own…if possible.
This is what happened with the wolves, a path which author Nate Blakeslee walks through in American Wolf: a true story of survival and obsession in the west. As with every piece written concerning real life events, the lens through which activities are reported can make a difference in the conclusions reached – was the reintroduction a good thing or not? Were there more benefits or outweighed by the consequences?
Spoiler – Blakeslee is not a cattle rancher. He is not a hippie. He is not a government employee. What he is is an author who took the resources he had and pieced them together, showing both sides of the story. Or trying to, rather.
The majority of the book seems to follow one particular NPS Ranger, Rick McIntyre. Understandably so, as Rick too copious notes on the wolves for many decades, almost from the beginning of their reintroduction. These, combined with notes from other wildlife observers, researchers, and park records gives a large picture of the packs’ reintroduction and growth into the Yellowstone National Park. While a lot of this information aims to be scientific, unemotional, and unbiased, it is written largely from a group of individual who love nature and wanted to see these wolves succeed.
The other side of the coin – hunters, guides, and cattle ranchers may also love nature, though may be affected differently by the wolf reintroduction. Wolves are a natural predator. They were at the top, or near the top, of the food chain when they were targeted for eradication. It is only natural to then assume there would be loses and adjustments in populations of other animals once they were reintroduced. To help offset these losses, the state governments set up programs to pay for cattle losses due to wolves.
What these programs did not cover were loses in elk to hunt for food, loses in revenue from reduced stays at hunting lodges, and the loss of having to sell property that may have been in a family for generations because the family could no longer earn enough to support themselves in such a rural setting. While these are loses that can be felt, often they are much harder to quantify. Even Nate had trouble finding someone to talk openly with him concerning the negative aspects of wolves. It took him several trips, and a lot of reassurances concerning not using his real name, for him to gain the trust of a local hunter/guide.
Over all, American Wolf: a true story of survival and obsession in the west gave a fairly balanced view, though I believe it leans more toward a pro-wolf stance. Perhaps this was the way I was reading the information, the fact that the majority of the information came from those who spent time watching and tracking the wolves, or that information from those negatively impacted by increase in wolf populations is harder to find.
In all, I believe it was a successful reintroduction, with more positive than negative results. Only time will tell.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.