A thoughtful history from environmental reporter Baron elegantly forewarns of the mountain lion’s return to human-populated landscapes.
“Animal behavior is malleable, and a community of people . . . can exert a powerful, cumulative effect on wildlife,” writes the author. This is especially so in the ecotone, the transition zone between land types, often biologically rich and often the site of uneasy mingling between creatures that are typically separate. There will be some strange edge effects as behavioral patterns adapt; and if one of the two creatures fails to sense a need to adapt, Baron cautions, the consequences may not be pretty: “A cat's prey preferences are not hard-wired.” The for-instance here is Boulder, Colorado, where mountain lions are threading themselves into the expanding human environment. Dogs and humans, once thought to be relatively immune to mountain lion attack due to historical animosity, have become prey to a creature that was formerly timid in their presence. Boulder has long prided itself as living gently on the land, and the community's response to the lions, Baron predicts, will soon be replicated as the carnivore’s range expands, with one side for, one side against the animals, and the middle ground left unmapped. It is a privilege to live among the cats, but humans are active agents within their environments, and the author suggests that a targeted approach to troublesome mountain lions may be in order. Following the thought-line of William Cronon (Changes in the Land, 1984, etc.), Baron writes, “if nature has grown artificial, then restoring wildness requires human intervention.” Many will concur, though his point that “we must manage nature in order to leave it alone” takes a next step that lies open to discussion.
Convincing argument that the return of the big carnivores will sharpen the debate over how humans situate themselves in the environment—at least, it certainly should. (3 illustrations, 2 maps, not seen)