The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds
By Jim Sterba
This may be hard to believe but it is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to more wild animals, birds and trees in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history. For nature lovers, this should be wonderful news - unless, perhaps, you are one of more than 4,000 drivers who will hit a deer today, your child's soccer field is carpeted with goose droppings, coyotes are killing your pets, the neighbor's cat has turned your bird feeder into a fast-food outlet, wild turkeys have eaten your newly-planted seed corn, beavers have flooded your driveway, or bears are looting your garbage cans.
For 400 years, explorers, traders, and settlers plundered North American wildlife and forests in an escalating rampage that culminated in the late 19th century's "era of extermination." By 1900, populations of many wild animals and birds had been reduced to isolated remnants or threatened with extinction, and worry mounted that we were running out of trees. Then, in the 20th century, an incredible turnaround took place. Conservationists outlawed commercial hunting, created wildlife sanctuaries, transplanted isolated species to restored habitats and imposed regulations on hunters and trappers. Over decades, they slowly nursed many wild populations back to health.
But after the Second World War something happened that conservationists hadn't foreseen: sprawl. People moved first into suburbs on urban edges, and then kept moving out across a landscape once occupied by family farms. By 2000, a majority of Americans lived in neither cities nor country but in that vast in-between. Much of sprawl has plenty of trees and its human residents offer up more and better amenities than many wild creatures can find in the wild: plenty of food, water, hiding places, and protection from predators with guns. The result is a mix of people and wildlife that should be an animal-lover's dream-come-true but often turns into a sprawl-dweller's nightmare.
Nature Wars offers an eye-opening look at how Americans lost touch with the natural landscape, spending 90 percent of their time indoors where nature arrives via television, films and digital screens in which wild creatures often behave like people or cuddly pets. All the while our well-meaning efforts to protect animals allowed wild populations to burgeon out of control, causing damage costing billions, degrading ecosystems, and touching off disputes that polarized communities, setting neighbor against neighbor. Deeply researched, eloquently written, counterintuitive and often humorous Nature Wars will be the definitive book on how we created this unintended mess.
"Though Sterba can be self-righteous, the book presents a valuable counternarrative to the mainstream view of nature-human interaction." - Publishers Weekly
"An eye-opening take on how romantic sentimentalism about nature can have destructive consequences." - Kirkus Reviews
"In this elegant and compelling tour of America's mutating connections with its land and wildlife, Jim Sterba uses wit and insight to reveal new and unintended consequences of human sprawl and the ways in which they have shaped today's relationships with Nature." - John H Adams , Founding Director , Natural Resources Defense Council
"It's a jungle out there - and we're living in it. Jim Sterba's Nature Wars is a smart, stylish and altogether provocative account of how we are confounded by that which we claim to hold so dear - Mother Nature and all her creatures moving in right next door." - Tom Brokaw
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Rated of 5
This book is an informative look at wildlife problems in the United States today. It is a very middle of the road book from the standpoint that it presents the facts about wildlife problems here in the U.S. and lets you form your own opinions about whether the policies put in place to handle the problems are right or wrong. I think it should be on the suggested reading list in every Agriculture, Environmental Science and Biology program in the country.
Jim Sterba has been a foreign correspondent and national affairs reporter for more than four decades for the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He is the author of Frankie's Place: A Love Story, about summers in Maine with his wife, the author Frances FitzGerald.
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