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BOOK REVIEW: Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds by Jim Sterba

Review by Sid Perkins

By
12:37pm, February 7, 2013
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There’s a war on in America’s neighborhoods. In the past few decades, a confluence of three trends has brought man and beast into increasing conflict: the rebound of wildlife populations from near-historic lows, human populations’ growing sprawl and the regrowth of forests on abandoned farmlands, especially in the Northeast.

In Nature Wars, longtime reporter Sterba chronicles how the proliferation of trees and greenbelts has turned back­yards into battle­grounds, boosting the landscape’s ability to support adaptable wildlife at the same time that tolerance of critters such as coyotes is dramatically declining.

And skirmishes in the nature wars aren’t restricted to man vs. beast. Patchworks of parks and other predator-free areas where wildlife can thrive have turned some communities into “all-the-pets-you-can-eat” buffets for cougars and coyotes. Likewise, in a landscape where hunters, environmentalists and other interest groups are plentiful and emotions can run high, neighbor can quickly turn against neighbor.

By some estimates, collateral damage is large: Vehicle-wildlife collisions may cost society between $6 billion and $12 billion per year. In just one incident in 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 is believed to have struck a flock of Canada geese, leading to the plane’s dramatic landing on the Hudson River.

Such incidents bring a jolt of reality to the public, who may suddenly envision wildlife as a threat to personal safety. Nevertheless, Sterba notes, in an era when individuals are increasingly disconnected from the ecosystems around them, convincing people that wildlife should be actively managed isn’t an easy task. 

Crown Publishers, 2012, 343 p., $26

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