STARRED REVIEW
October 2017

Taming the wilderness

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Ah, the American wild: teeming with animals roaming free, right? Two new books might change your thinking on that, as well as the role of humans and government.

STARRED REVIEW
October 2017

Taming the wilderness

Feature by

Ah, the American wild: teeming with animals roaming free, right? Two new books might change your thinking on that, as well as the role of humans and government.

October 2017

Taming the wilderness

Feature by

Ah, the American wild: teeming with animals roaming free, right? Two new books might change your thinking on that, as well as the role of humans and government.

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Ah, the American wild: teeming with animals roaming free, right? Two new books might change your thinking on that, as well as the role of humans and government.

In American Wolf, Nate Blakeslee gives us a tale of survival and obsession, replete with impressive detail gleaned from numerous interviews, diaries and personal observations. His account mostly takes place in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced starting in 1995 after becoming nearly extinct in the United States by the 1920s. As the wolves go about the unending business of survival, they become the objects of obsession for cattle ranchers, trophy hunters and people who rise before dawn to get a glimpse of the skilled predators. All of this plays out against a background of political, bureaucratic and court battles as opposing interests clash, with the wolves caught in the middle.

Wisely—and compellingly—Blakeslee focuses much of the narrative on one particular wolf, an alpha female known as O-Six. While she becomes a media star thanks to interviews given by park personnel, Blakeslee goes behind the scenes to give readers a richly detailed look at the complicated dynamics of pack life (and death) in the Rockies, all while avoiding the cuddly tone of a Disney-esque documentary. He also takes care not to fawn over heroes or superficially target villains in an account that, like the wolves themselves, has many shades of gray.

ECOLOGICAL CONUNDRUM
While the reintroduction of wolves brought with it a number of challenges, it was practically a walk in the park compared with the sad dilemma presented by America’s wild horses, also known as mustangs. While not native to the United States (Spanish conquistadors brought them here), there are thousands of mustangs in the West, living on hardscrabble land almost exclusively owned by the federal government. As David Philipps recounts in Wild Horse Country, their current situation is deeply troubling and marked by helicopter-aided roundups, segregation of horses by sex in long-term holding ranches where they await adoption that rarely comes and, in the worst cases, sale to slaughterhouses. There are (again) multiple competing interests, and the federal Bureau of Land Management is tasked with keeping the horses’ numbers down in response to demands by cattle ranchers. Even so, the mustangs’ numbers continue to grow as every “solution” is met with fierce opposition.

Philipps tells the horses’ story in entertaining fashion, with side trips to prehistoric times, the world of Western pulp novels and the life of an early animal-rights activist bent on dynamiting slaughterhouses. Philipps also indulges in some old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, getting to the bottom of modern-day slaughterhouse rumors and even confronting a U.S. Cabinet member. And he offers up a solution of his own that makes just enough sense to ensure it won’t be adopted.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Wild Horse Country
By David Philipps
Norton

ISBN 9780393247138

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American Wolf

American Wolf

By Nate Blakeslee
Crown
ISBN 9781101902783
Wild Horse Country

Wild Horse Country

By David Philipps
Norton
ISBN 9780393247138

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