How human encroachment hurts wildlife has been the subject of so many books, articles, websites, and slideshows that it has been common knowledge for decades. This knowledge isn’t wrong, but it is only half the story and, as such, a misconception. [Page 269]
We live in an odd time. It’s not a bold statement, per se, given the events that seem to unfold daily. However, in terms of our interactions with wildlife we, in the U.S. at any rate, we now live closer to more wildlife than at perhaps any other time in history. It is difficult to believe in contrast to the constant stories about extinction that populate the mainstream press.
In Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds tells the tale of our reintroduction to wild animals.
The first part of the story deals with the reforestation of America. It seems odd to most people, but the U.S. has seen a great regeneration of trees across many landscapes that were once cleared for farmland. I remember a teacher telling me that it was odd we thought of battlefields in the Civil War being tree lined when in reality these locations were fields. The neglect of the plow had turned them into new forests.
It is a strange thought, but we live in a forest. Our suburban landscapes are filled with trees. We have created the perfect landscape for once wild creatures to encroach into our personal space.
What animals exactly? In the second part we get illumination on how deer, turkeys, geese, and bears have made comebacks that would have shocked early American settlers.
In combination with the change in our landscape–e.g. more trees and edge landscapes favored by the comeback animals–our habits of leisure and lifestyle changed. Fewer and fewer people hunted deer. Even if there were enough hunters it is doubtful that they would have been allowed to cull deer in the near-urban or suburban landscapes where deer were becoming a nuisance to gardens and cars. Anti-hunting movements were afoot all across the U.S. and continue to this day as fewer people see it as a way to control animal populations and secure meat but as a cruel pastime of a bygone era.
Plus, people are stupid. People will feed bears. People will fail to secure their garbage from bears. People will encourage children to break apart stale bread and toss it to geese down by the pond. Ugh. Just Google “Boulder,” “bear,” and “garbage can” for a quick education of the all of the different interest groups at play. How this is even a discussion baffles me.
The author posits that it was only a matter of time before a bear encroached into a suburb and killed a resident. For a woman in Florida she was lucky that he was only half right.
The third act of the book feels somewhat tacked on or that it was written for a separate book. In this particular section Sterba castigates the proponents of saving feral cats, bird feeding enthusiasts, and generally irresponsible individuals who have allowed for an alteration of our relationship with wild nature. I get the argument about feral cats, but the indignation about bird feeders seems odd. Almost like a personal crusade.
It would have been interesting to see more about how feral pigs, descendants of escaped domesticated animals, are wreaking havoc on the landscape throughout the U.S. Another time perhaps.
Regardless, Nature Wars is an excellent look at the very modified landscape that we find ourselves living in today.