Sterba, Jim. 2012. Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned
Backyards in Battlegrounds. NY, NY: Crown Publishers.
Nature Wars by Jim Sterba. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel
Jim Sterba is a veteran reporter for America’s premiere financial newspaper, The Wall Street Journal. He has written numerous articles on wildlife issues and did so in a manner that was remarkably fair to supporters of the consumptive use of wildlife (i.e. fisherman, hunters, and trappers).
Nature Wars is essentially a sociological history of humanity’s relationship with nature in the area that became known as the United States. Part 1, Forest People, surveys the history of America’s forests and how its resources were exploited and used to build the country. But it is more than a narrative of abuse, it is also a story of renewal. Sterba explains how the forests that were originally cut down for firewood and for raising crops, ultimately grew back, thereby allowing wildlife to return in its wake. Sterba continues showing how after WWII, the housing shortage spawned a new phenomenon in America known as the “suburbs”. These suburbs caused and were related to a cultural change of mechanization, urbanization, and modernization that allowed people to become less connected to the earth and nature.
Part 2, Wild Beasts, takes up five species (beaver, white-tailed deer, Canada geese, wild turkey, and bears) that have thrived in the new landscape and eventually became a nuisance for those suburbanites. For each one, Sterba details how the return of these species spawned a debate between the protectionists and the managers.
Part 3, Denatured Life, is perhaps the most important part of the book. It is here that Sterba explains how American culture became disconnected with nature and its realities. He details how we have become schizophrenic in our attitude toward nature. On the one hand, we work to protect animals at great cost, but on the other do nothing to stop the rampant killing of animals on our highways and by our free-ranging cats. He illustrates the utter senselessness of our continued consumption of wood products (which may be harvested from overseas) while protesting the cutting of a managed forest nearby. He decries our illiteracy of nature and demonstrates how this ignorance harms the very nature we say we want to protect.
The book is well written. Sterba has a way of describing events that will make you smile but are short of ridicule. Trappers and sportsmen and women need to read this book to help them understand why their perspective is so out of sync with modern America. If we hope to change minds, we must first understand the mind of the urbanite.
While much can be praised in this text, Sterba should have included the role religion plays in the nature wars. The fact is that the decline of historic Christianity in the U.S. created an intellectual vacuum that had to be filled by an alternative ideology. His neglect of this fact was a significant oversight in his otherwise excellent book.
Nevertheless, the book is well worth reading. Sterba has included so many background stories (such as where kitty litter came from) and statistics of wildlife damage and activities, that the book could be seen as a miniature resource. Readers will not regret reading it.
Nature Wars is available through major book stores and online book retailers.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a certified wildlife control operator who helps individuals, businesses, and agencies resolve wildlife damage issues through training, writing, expert witness, and research. His latest book is the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook, 3rd edition. He can be contacted at wildlifecontrolconsultant at gmail dot com.
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