Journalist Sterba (Frankie's Place: A Love Story, 2003, etc.) employs humor and an eye for the absurd to document the sometimes bizarre conflicts that arise as a consequence of America's transformed relationship with nature.
As forest cover has grown back to more than two-thirds of its pre-colonial extent, wildlife recovery from the “so-called era of extermination in the last half of the nineteenth century” has accelerated. People who grew up with teddy bears and Disney's Bambi have different attitudes to furry, cuddly creatures than their grandparents did. Nowadays, someone can get death threats while trying to protect communities from resurgent populations of dangerous wild creatures like coyotes and bears, or even from the activities of feral cats. Sterba provides a summary history of the wilderness colonists found, the replacement of the great Eastern forest with farmland and the market-driven extermination of wildlife through commercial hunting and trapping. He continues with cases studies of beaver, deer, bear and geese to show how, as land has reverted to forest, human communities have been polarized by the development of “problems” with each of these species and others. The author presents a repeating pattern: At first, returners are welcomed and encouraged with food, only to be rejected as the dangerous downside begins to emerge. Detailed accounts of efforts to outline solutions, and also of such often-overlooked consequences of this pattern as roadkill, supplement this deeply conflicted overall picture.
An eye-opening take on how romantic sentimentalism about nature can have destructive consequences.