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Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds

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This may be hard to believe but it is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to more wild animals, birds and trees in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history.  For nature lovers, this should be wonderful news -- unless, perhaps, you are one of more than 4,000 drivers who will hit a deer today, your child’s soccer field is carpeted with goose droppings, coyotes are killing your pets, the neighbor’s cat has turned your bird feeder into a fast-food outlet, wild turkeys have eaten your newly-planted seed corn, beavers have flooded your driveway, or bears are looting your garbage cans.
For 400 years, explorers, traders, and settlers plundered North American wildlife and forests in an escalating rampage that culminated in the late 19th century’s “era of extermination.”  By 1900, populations of many wild animals and birds had been reduced to isolated remnants or threatened with extinction, and worry mounted that we were running out of trees. Then, in the 20th century, an incredible turnaround took place. Conservationists outlawed commercial hunting, created wildlife sanctuaries, transplanted isolated species to restored habitats and imposed regulations on hunters and trappers. Over decades, they slowly nursed many wild populations back to health.
But after the Second World War something happened that conservationists hadn’t foreseen: sprawl. People moved first into suburbs on urban edges, and then kept moving out across a landscape once occupied by family farms. By 2000, a majority of Americans lived in neither cities nor country but in that vast in-between. Much of sprawl has plenty of trees and its human residents offer up more and better amenities than many wild creatures can find in the wild: plenty of food, water, hiding places, and protection from predators with guns. The result is a mix of people and wildlife that should be an animal-lover’s dream-come-true but often turns into a sprawl-dweller’s nightmare.

Nature Wars offers an eye-opening look at how  Americans lost touch with the natural landscape, spending 90 percent of their time indoors where nature arrives via television, films and digital screens in which wild creatures often behave like people or cuddly pets.  All the while our well-meaning efforts to protect animals allowed wild populations to burgeon out of control, causing damage costing billions, degrading ecosystems, and touching off disputes that polarized communities, setting neighbor against neighbor. Deeply researched, eloquently written, counterintuitive and often humorous Nature Wars will be the definitive book on how we created this unintended mess. 

368 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2012

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Jim Sterba

4 books6 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 78 reviews
Profile Image for Brian Griffith.
Author 6 books214 followers
December 22, 2020
This is a fantastic look at the challenges of managing neighborhoods in an animal-filled world. The book is mainly focused on the Eastern USA, where forests (or suburban semi-forests) have slowly reclaimed most of the landscape, and the animals are seeking advantage through urban living. Sterba keeps in touch with local developments in areas facing rising populations of deer, beavers, geese, turkeys, bears, coyotes, feral cats, or whatever. What to do, for example, about suburban beavers causing floods that soften railroad beds, or tribes of feral cats that systematically over-consume songbirds? The popular urge to just leave nature alone collides with the realities that every creature tries to maximize its population, that all are seeking to shape the landscape to their own advantage, and that no population can keep growing forever. Overall, Sterba gives a wide-angle, centuries-spanning look at the evolution of America's beastly relations. He's connecting with local leaders, looking for solutions that are smart and balanced rather than ideologically pure.
Profile Image for Julie Mickens.
180 reviews30 followers
June 16, 2016
The best parts are the middle chapters, featuring Sterba's fascinating research on several now-overabundant backyard species -- namely deer, geese, beaver, bear and turkey. Sterba reveals that many populations are now semi-feral, neither wholly wild nor comfortably (for us) domestic.

This leads to a refreshing perspective: We can no longer afford a man vs nature, or "progress" vs romantic wildness dichotomy; instead, we need to become enlightened horticulturalists, wise stewards, and in some cases practioners of wild - animal husbandry. (Although outside this book's purview, this paradigm shift will also be needed to manage and adapt to climate change.)

This hybrid view complements an astonishing, counterintuitive fact: American forests east of the Mississippi have regrown in abundance following our historical rapacious clearing and industrial despoilment.

Sterba is largely an enjoyable, informative narrator. There are a few hints of fogeyism and kids-these-days nostalgia here and there, but Sterba keeps it in check, letting his hard-earned facts and fascinating research carry the story. Sterba is a career reporter and that discipline shows through.

I strongly agree with his conclusion that hunting or trapping to harvest/manage this bounty would be appropriate. Critiques of sentimental animal-rights partisans were welcomed by me.

However, there was one point about landscape ecology I wish he had made more strongly: that the regrown forest and abundant suburban fauna doesn't necessarily signify healthy ecosystems. The landscape is now fragmented and there are several threatened species for every over abundant one. Plus, many vegetation communities will probably never recover; e.g., a Pennsylvania hillside now flanked with Norway maple and Japanese knotweed won't support the ecosystem that a historic oak or hemlock grove would have. I'm sure Sterba understands this, but chose not emphasize this point as it may have taken him too far afield, so to speak. The problem is that less well informed readers could come away thinking that, because wild turkeys and deer bounced back, ecological restoration and conservation aren't needed after all.
Profile Image for J.S..
Author 1 book51 followers
February 17, 2016
A couple years ago my mother-in-law, who lives in Washington state, was delighted when some beaver built a dam on the little creek that runs through her horse property. She happily told of all the additional birds and wildlife she'd seen since the pond had formed. Recently I asked her about the pond and she sadly said it had to be destroyed: the pond had become a problem.

Although I grew up in a neighborhood that was near the edge of town, I never saw wildlife near home except for small birds. In Los Angeles, however, I regularly see (or see evidence of) squirrels, possums, skunks, rabbits, raccoons, ducks and geese, coyotes, and deer. While I and many others may be charmed to see these animals, many of my neighbors see them as nuisances. In this excellent book, Jim Sterba explains how 'nature' in America has gone from being endangered to posing problems. Most of the book deals more directly with Eastern states, but the problems are often felt in Western states as well.

The first section describes how early settlers cleared forested lands and how those lands became re-forested. Sterba makes the argument that we are 'forest people,' and we more often than not live among trees. He also explains how our urban sprawl (first to suburbs and now exurbs - former farming areas that are now filled with non-farm homes) puts many people living in forests. And while trees seldom come into conflict with people, those forested areas have become home to animals once endangered but which are now quickly becoming out-of-control conservation success stories. In the second section he explains the problems posed by growing populations of beaver, deer, Canada geese, wild turkeys, and black bears. And the third section explains how we became denatured - becoming viewers of wildlife that we anthropomorphize with human characteristics. He also discusses the problems of roadkill, bird-feeders, and feral (stray) cats.

I was surprised at all the negative reviews here, but after reading the book I tend to view those people as ill-informed and inflexible. I am not a hunter and have never felt the urge to do so, but I was always taught (even in high school biology classes) that a balance is necessary. It might be nice to think the animals have a prior right to be here, but we have a right as well, and a reasonable balance ought to be possible (although he recounts plenty of horror stories). I found this book to be a very rational approach to balancing wildlife and environmental concerns.
Profile Image for Marissa.
225 reviews6 followers
February 20, 2013
I consider myself to be an animal lover. Grew up in an old farm town that gradually became Suburbia. Had a bird feeder and lots of woods in the backyard where i grew up lots of great memories tramping around the woods as a kid. Raised a bunch of rabbits, cats and now a dog. I volunteered with various animal rescues and am mostly vegetarian. Grew up opposed to hunting and animal testing and now oppose factory farming. As an adult, I helped spread the word about trap and neuter programs. All that being said, this book was eye opening for me. Not too long ago I had to stop and consider my opposition to hunting. I was opposed to it for sport but I can't argue with the logic of feeding hungry people and now the sad truth that wild caught animals are healthier than factory farmed animals. Perhaps because I had come to these conclusions before I picked up this book, it made me more open minded about it, or perhaps because it is researched so well. I can't argue with his logic and can't help but find a bit of myself in every story of conflict and managed to learn so much more about what is happening, the politics of population control, and the dangerous false messages created by those who would save every life without realizing the actual costs involved in the decisions. I found myself questioning a lot more of my default beliefs and that makes this a great book to me.
Profile Image for Kevin McAllister.
548 reviews26 followers
May 3, 2012
Found myself really impressed with the first half of this book and vet disappointed with the second half. In the first half the author presented a very precise and detailed explanation of the terrible ways in so much of wildlife of America was used and exploited in many cases almost to the point of extinction. He then continued to explain the incredible ways animals such as deer, beaver, turkeys, Canada Geese, coyotes and even black bears made such amazing comebacks that their numbers became a problem. And this is where lost me. He seems to believe that there one and one way only to solve these over population problems. Hunt them and shoot them down. Nothing else will do. He came off as a pompous,know it all, crotchety old man and in my opinion his biased one way view does absolutely nothing in the way of offering a reasonable solution to this troubling overpopulation problem.
Profile Image for Hapzydeco.
1,591 reviews11 followers
January 8, 2014
Fact-based analysis of a fascinating 21st century conundrum.
Profile Image for Ellen.
111 reviews1 follower
August 31, 2020
This is a well-researched and interesting presentation on how man's actions of the course of America's history from the Pilgrims to present day have affected the way wildlife populations have decreased and then increased again in areas of this country. The author spent many years traveling around and investigating different animal population shifts as man's intrusion first de--forested, then re-forested areas. He makes the point that most places are now in a re-forestation state as farm land that was de-forested is being abandoned and is going back to a forested state. Suburban and outward sprawl also has planned landscaping that invites wild animals to become backyard guests that some people deliberately welcome and others don't. Conservationists have gotten it wrong, thinking early on that their attempts to re-introduce and re-build populations of near extinct or endangered species were helping. Often done for the sportsman who wanted to hunt, populations became too large and out of control. Sterba highlights white tail deer, black bear, Canada geese, beavers, and wild turkeys. He refers often to experts in conservation fields, academia, sport hunting, and citizen groups contending with local invasive wildlife issues. He often uses his 1940-50's childhood on a Michigan farm as an example of how animals, especially pets, should be viewed. I found this a bit off-putting. Otherwise it was very readable, and presented good points, but no easy solutions.
92 reviews13 followers
August 31, 2020
Sterba takes on the increasingly vexed problem of human-wildlife conflict in the US attempting to get to its roots. His journalistic approach is both entertaining and frustratingly shallow. He describes well the growth of the urban sprawl and the gradual rewilding of America that sets the stage for this conflict. Yet, when he tries to attribute reasons for conflict he finds much to blame - perhaps too much. It is difficult to deny that an increasingly 'denatured' demography, grown up on a diet of faux nature served up by Disney, Discovery and doggies-in-the window find themselves in a troubled, warped relationship with anything truly feral. Sterba believes his own farm upbringing - decapitating chickens and eating the family cow - was a much healthier way to engage with animals, guts and feathers and dung. It is hard to argue that there is something profoundly irritating about the naive conflation of ecological integrity, environmental protection, habitat conservation and animal rights. Yet Sterba's arguments sound just a tad partisan when he sides with the game hunters as an 'elegant' solution to the problems posed by the wild species that have taken over American backyards. Sterba is able to point fingers at every other lobby group - pet owners, humane societies, conservationists - except the game hunters for whom he has a special regard. Sterba's analysis makes for an interesting but ultimately unfulfilling thesis.
Profile Image for Warreni.
62 reviews
February 23, 2014
Sterba makes a compelling case for us to re-examine both our attitudes toward the concept of wilderness and our well-intentioned but often misguided approaches to amateur wildlife management. The book starts by recounting the history of human exploitation of American forests and their eventual but poorly-recognized recovery. It goes on to discuss the problem fauna such as beavers, deer, and geese that have seen explosive population growth and a concomitant increase in conflicts with humans. Finally, the book discusses issues surrounding amateur wildlife management--people manipulating animal populations through seemingly-innocuous activities such as feeding stray cats or installing backyard bird-feeders.

The book occasionally seems a bit disjointed, like a collection of essays on a broadly-similar theme. However, the author does attempt to tie everything together in the epilogue. While it's hard to argue with the points made in the individual chapters, his conclusion that the only solution to this dilemma is for people to truly "get back to the land" seems excessive. I still believe that it's possible to educate people out of bad habits and wrong ideas. This book is a step in that direction.
Profile Image for Dayna.
415 reviews4 followers
January 1, 2013
I thought his best points are how human beings anthropomorphize nature, and are increasingly completely disengaged from it. Americans essentially hire out others to do the unpleasant/hard work (see: illegal immigrants in slaughterhouses, sourcing wood from poorer countries) so we can pull the blinders over our own eyes. We are a part of nature. We are alive and as a direct and indirect consequence, other creatures die. I think much of my own decade-plus vegetarianism was tied up in not wanting to be a part of death. But then came the slow realization that I am whether or not I am the hand that wields it. I know there are many degrees of this complicity. It is a sliding scale, not a dividing line. A lot of this book deals with our rather uncomfortable relationship with nature - our denying its reality and our place as agents in the landscape.
Anyway - lots of good points here about the above and how some animals (turkeys, deer) have staged incredible comebacks. As a result, we should reconsider some wildlife policies we have on the state ( and federal) level.
Less convincing are his anecdotal assertions of the rabidness of cat lovers.
469 reviews6 followers
April 25, 2013
I was super disappointed in this book. I thought it would be about human and wildlife conflicts in suburbia and the different methods to mitigate those conflicts. Instead the first portion was all about the deforestation of the Northeast and then the subsequent regrowth of the forest. All fine and dandy but kinda boring. Part 2 was about human/animal conflicts. He chooses 5 species. There is a lot of natural history and then a lot of how we killed off everything. Then he talks at length about how we are disconnected from nature and anthropomorphize too much. Then he talks about killing them again. Repeat this formula for each species. I was hoping he would talk about all of the various methods to mitigate conflict. Literally his only solution is to kill them all. If you are antihunting you are really stupid. Mostly he talks about roadkill, birdfeeders and feral cats.

Super disappointing. I really didn't like the condescending tone that the author took towards his reader. I felt like he was calling everyone stupid.
Profile Image for Olga.
41 reviews21 followers
December 1, 2012
Quite interesting-- there is more human-animal coliving now than at any point in history because of greater human population and successful come back of many species.That is not to say that the environment is thriving; more animals does not biodiversity and sustainable biomes make. Still very good points, however.
Profile Image for Miah.
155 reviews66 followers
May 5, 2022
Who hasn’t seen a dear nibbling away in their backyard in the bright of day or smelt the spray of a skunk while taking out the trash at night? Maybe you’ve had to avoid geese while walking or cursed as you step in their feces. Perhaps, you put out a bird feeder or feed stray cats (don't!). Whatever it may be, today many Americans live nearer to wildlife than in any other time in the country’s history. This is a result of several factors including forest regrowth, conservation of wildlife, and suburban and exurban sprawl. Jim Sterba begins “Nature Wars” by setting the stage for the rapid regrowth of eastern forests by documenting the history of their destruction. The growing population of European settlers into the Americas saw a land ripe for the picking. It is estimated that America had lost 43 percent of its forests by 1907. Hindsight; however, is 20/20. Europeans depended on the deforestation of trees for survival. The wood was used for fuel to heat homes and cook food while the cleared land was utilized to grow crops. It was the abandonment of this land due to the move west and industrialization that allowed for the reforestation. The return of the forests made wildlife’s comeback possible with the help of the growing conservationist movement. However, suburban sprawl was an unforeseen variable. Expansion flowed outward from cities and continued onto former pastoral land which eliminated the buffer between people and wildlife while the food, protection, and hiding places invited many species in and allowed them to overpopulate. These things led to an increasing amount of conflict between humans and wildlife which led to an increasing amount of conflict over how to resolve these problems hence, “Nature Wars.”

Sterba details five species of overabundance including beavers, deer, geese, turkeys, and bears. These overabundant species have become a nuisance to humans and in some cases a threat. For example, too many beavers can lead to devastating deforestation and their dams can cause the flooding of many human structures including roads, basements, backyards or septic systems. It has even led to train derailments. The overpopulation of deer is another danger. They can degrade ecosystems as they eat vegetation at unsustainable rates removing the habitat of other species like the songbird. They can also pose a threat to humans as they spread Lyme disease and collide into cars causing injury and death. Meanwhile, geese threaten our clean water supply with eutrophication as they can produce 1.5 pounds of feces a day. Not to mention they took down a US airways flight in 2009. Once these problems become apparent to a community questions are raised on how to solve the problem and conflicts ensue.

In these nature wars there are typically two sides. Jim Sterba comes to the conclusion that hunting or killing the overpopulated animals is the most realistic solution. However, animal rights and protection groups believe that hunting and trapping is cruel and inhumane. They propose a plethora of non-lethal solutions that Sterba discredits as ineffective, unrealistic, impossible or all together imaginary. While hunting and trapping may not be a perfect solution through sheer process of elimination Sterba argues that it is the most realistic. Sterba writes that he grew up on a farm in rural Michigan and he believes that this has given him a realistic outlook on nature and wildlife whereas new generations are instead “denatured” as they spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. They have no practical experience or education on the harsh realities of nature and stewardship. On the farm you raise an animal for slaughter where you kill it, skin it, clean it, and cook it as opposed to buying it pre-packaged in the meat section of the grocery store. Therefore, the only version of animals’ suburbanites get are censored versions through their windows and media. This, he explains leads to an anthropomorphizing of animals. Media portrays an almost fantastical version of nature in which they humanize the animals and edit out the violence. This is the idealized dream that fills animal rights protestor’s heads as they accuse wildlife managers of being assassins. No one wants to kill Bambi.

Wildlife management experts usually recommend culling the excess of a species to stabilize the population. However, when communities try to take these steps, they are often gridlocked into years long battles with advocates for non-lethal solutions. Sterba humorously presents the exhausting pattern that each locality repeats over and over. First, there are protests to stop the culling. Then, there are suggested solutions presented like animal contraception, relocation, human relocation or even the introduction of predators. Contraception is not a feasible option because it is too expensive and ineffective at this point. The process of relocation is similarly ineffective because it often causes undue stress on the animal. They are unable to acclimate to the new environment which leads to their deaths. It would also be a temporary solution as you are only moving the problem somewhere else, that is if the area even wants the species. The idea of humans relocating is even more unrealistic. Some people have the idea that man is encroaching on the natural world however, it is our home too! There is a misconception that nature will balance itself out if humans just disappeared ( https://www.nationalgeographic.com/en... ) however, this is a myth. Lastly, the reason not to introduce predators like cougars and wolves into suburbia seems self-explanatory. They would be an incredible danger to humans. The lack of predators' though will allow certain species to proliferate and that is why it is our responsibility to play our role as predators. In the end, the debate comes full circle as people are forced to grudgingly accept humane euthanasia because there is no other realistic option.

Hunting and trapping are also the most cost-efficient option because it is at no cost to the taxpayers and it actually puts money into the economy. Deer hunters alone put in more than 12 billion dollars to the sport. This is from equipment, clothing, weapons, vehicles as well as hunting and trapping licenses. Animal protection organizations protest this because killing animals should not be “fun”. Instead they settle on sharpshooters which cost taxpayers around 350 dollars a deer as opposed to doing it for free because hunter have fun. In the end they all die just the same. The real losers in this war are the taxpayers and real winners are the stakeholders in wildlife management companies making a profit off of this stalemate. For example, there used to be more recreational trappers. They paid the government for a license and made a small profit of about 20 dollars a beaver by selling the pelt. Now there are more “professional” trappers that charge about 150 dollars for one beaver and 750 dollars for a family. A geese management scam involved chasing geese away with dogs. One company secured a 36,000 dollars annual contract which amounted to 120 dollars per goose. Therefore, taxpayers are paying 36,000 dollars a year to move feces someplace else and in some cases the geese come right back.

The hypocrisy of animal rights groups is astounding. They largely ignore the amount of death caused by roadside car-animal collisions. Yet the amount of roadkill each year is comparable to the amount of hunting kills each year. Animal protection groups arbitrarily go after only one. We pay for billions of dollars in wildlife damage instead of solving the problem because politicians kneel to the pressures of animal rights groups who prioritize the lives of individual animals as opposed to the millions of living things as a whole that depend on the ecosystem that they are negatively impacting.

When one species overpopulates, it can put a whole host of other species in danger because there is an increased competition for resources and a scarcity of food. For example, if deer overpopulate, then they eat too much of the vegetation, and when they eat too much of the vegetation songbirds lose their habitat, when songbirds lose their habitat, they become endangered and their prey, insects, proliferate. It is a ripple effect. Possible solutions to these problems include an extended hunting season and allowing for more effective hunting practices. For example, after Conibear traps were banned, trappers who made the switch to live traps caught less than 100 beavers a year.

Sterba states that cruelty is relative. A perfect example of this is in the body gripping Conibear trap. It was banned in Massachusetts as “cruel”. However, ironically at the time of its invention it was celebrated as a humane breakthrough because it killed instantly. The Conibears were instead replaced with a trap that caught animals alive but kept them captive and terrified for long periods of time until they were eventually killed. Thus, cruelty is relative. Why does only one side’s definition of cruelty matter? Sterba argues that money and power dictate over science. The Humane Society of the United States is the single largest animal protection group in America and they spread misinformation which manipulated the ignorant general public into voting for a ban against Conibears. They took advantage of problematic ballot initiatives to do this and put-out media misrepresenting the traps as having jaws and cutting off legs. They portrayed family dogs and cats and potentially children becoming caught in them to tug at heartstrings. Not once in the history of Massachusetts had a pet or child actually been injured by a legal trap. The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife responded to correct the misinformation. They explained that the banning of the Conibear would greatly impact wildlife management and lead to uncontrolled dangerous populations that that would eventually have to be dealt with anyway at great taxpayer expense. The ballot initiative was based on bad science but the truth was silenced by HSUS by accusing MassWildlife of lobbying which government officials cannot legally do. Unfortunately, the side with the biologists, wardens and agents who are educated on wildlife management were censored (79) while the HSUS were allowed to continue spreading propaganda. Rob Deblinger of MassWildlife commented that “emotion ruled over science” that day.
Profile Image for Kathy Stone.
342 reviews48 followers
April 11, 2013
I really liked this book. Jim Sterba addresses the question of overabundance in the natural world and the human world in this book. As people in the Northeastern portion of the United States have spread out and built homes on farmland they have left patches of forests where wildlife has thrived. The animals that Sterba has written about include beaver, deer, bear, turkeys, Canada geese, coyotes, and cats. These animals and more live among people and sometimes the results are life-taking for all.

I remember reading parts of the beaver chapter in the Wall Street Journal. That is where I first learned that the Eastern Megalopolis is really just a city within the trees. In the article he was with a trapper remover beavers from a Walmart parking lot that the beavers had flooded. Beavers flood a lot of land when they create their dams. Some of it may be useful. I spent fourteen years living on a farm where we had a large beaver dam. Unfortunately I did not live there before the beavers so I do not know if our swamp would have been a rather small creek if they did not move there. We did have one incident where someone had pulled out a grate that was used to keep the beavers on our side of the street. We ended up with six feet of water on the road. We knew this because the Township in which I resided brought out a measured flood stick. Of course they did not know what to do and the situation became more dangerous because a young man was driving his 4x4 through the water. The State of New Jersey DEP finally came up and they replaced the great. The funny story there is that when the state employee got to the site I choose to walk out the door. He looked at me and then asked for permission to walk on our property. I did not care. I wanted the flood gone. Eminent domain does not mean much when the neighbor children are showing off. Beavers could create a swamp on my property because it was protected wetlands. The other side of the road did not drain.

Sterba hints that we may need to reintroduce trapping to control the numbers. It would not brother me. I think animals are cute and all, but too many can become problematic. Take deer as another example. White-tailed deer are so plentiful that more are killed by motor vehicles than by hunters. This is when the population reaches too much. Deer have been managed to thin males out of herds because one male can service a lot of does. As a result hunters have been trained to look for trophy deer with large racks of antlers. In order to control the deer population mat require the hunting of more females. This is anathema to most people because they watched the Disney film Bambi has small children. Bambi loses his mother to a hunter and man becomes the enemy. So instead we live in a world where the number one predator of white-tailed deer is the family car. Car collisions cost billions of dollars each year. Yes, I have personally hit one.

Bears are another story. For a while they had been eradicated in New Jersey. The first recollection I have of a bear in the state was in 1986 when one was found near the Willowbrook Mall and transported to High Point State Park. Then in the 19990's bears were everywhere and some mothers were having triplets. Yes, I have seen mother bears with three cubs. I have even followed a bear while driving walking down the street.

Sterba does address the issue of paved roads and animals. Apparently they like smooth roads as much as humans do. Unfortunately, this leads to many animal deaths collectively called roadkill. Many people are not aware of how many animals die because of cars. I know when I was learning to try we joked that you could hit anything smaller than a raccoon without worrying about too much damage. This may be unfair to wildlife and I know many anti-hunting people who argue that car deaths take the place of guns, but the question asked is do they really. Sterba does not set out to answer any of these questions with definitive means of solving a recent phenomenon. See historically, these animals did not live where people lived. As people moved into a region they destroyed the habitat that animals need to survive. So the animals were either hunted as pests or starved. Some just left apparently to come back. There are now more people and animals living near each other in the Northeastern United States that at any time in history.

Large Canada Geese were thought extinct, but were brought back from the brink through breeding programs and sales. Now we have too many and feces everywhere. Ponds which children swam in years ago have been rendered unsafe and the ground is disgusting. Sterba explains in the book that the geese we complain about do not migrate. They were bread here and hence this is there home. It seems much like the deer we do not kill and eat enough to keep the population in balance. They are a good source of food and as such many hungry people would not have to go hungry. Because of anti-firearms laws animals that are found where they can create a nuisance are left to be a nuisance. When more people lived an agrarian lifestyle the wild animals were killed and eaten. This was a significant form of protein during migrating season. The reason some geese stayed is that there was a time when live decoys were used. Our geese are the offspring of the decoys.

The number one way in which most Americans interact with wildlife these days is by feeding birds. Bird seed sales have increased. Sterba lays out reasons to not feed wild birds. Mainly it is so that diseases are not spread through the bird world. The number one killer of birds though are cats. Feral cats are everywhere and the "Trap, Neuter, Return, or "TNR" programs do not work. There does not seem to be a clear consensus on what to do about the cats. More keep be added as not every house cat stays a pet.

This is a really good book that makes the reader stop and look at the world around him. Sterba does not claim that this regrowth of forest is everywhere on our planet. It is just the Northeastern United States where most of us live. In this case it may be conservation worked too well or we became too lazy. Sterba does not out both sides of each argument he presents. I personally see nothing wrong with an increase in hunting season, but not everyone agrees. Reading this book may open more people's eyes to the dangers the animals put themselves and ourselves into by living so close to us.
Profile Image for John.
485 reviews3 followers
October 23, 2021
As one raised and living in the great eastern US re-forest, I found this a very interesting read. My wife and I watched a turkey an hour ago ambling through our 1,500 home community. I sprayed my flowers with deer repellent this morning. We could not sleep Tuesday night after our house got a hit of skunk overspray from its warding off a fox (a regular thing). In short, this suburban wildlife is fascinating, but at the same time a real pain. As other reviewers note, the author has a bias. If you are against hunting and love feeding stray cats, you will probably give it one star. Personally, I found the author's points to be rational. I first became aware of this issue back in the 1970s when my boss, who had a little farm in central PA, referred to deer as "field rats". Now I get it. Its not a great book with a bit of rambling on some topics, but it has a lot of really interesting information about these now common animals all around us.
Profile Image for Anna.
102 reviews
July 5, 2021
I learned some things. Like how forests in the East and Midwest are actually back and better than ever from the massive deforestation campaigns of the last few centuries. Along with the trees, some species have surpassed socially acceptable levels (although not necessarily passing ecological or biological limits).

While I gleamed some interesting info, generally I wasn’t interested. And I had to read around some pretty awful colonialist interpretations of the ‘Indian’-pilgrim relationship. Among other things.
Profile Image for A B.
1,115 reviews14 followers
January 28, 2013
This is an interesting perspective on wildlife conservation. The first few sections of the book discuss deforestation and how forests on the east coast of the US rebounded, almost out of control, once farmers started moving to the Great Plains. Conservation was not even considered until 200 years ago, and it took another 100 to 150 (depending on the animal in question) before people took it seriously. Misguided attempts to simply reintroduce wildlife and leave them alone have failed because they were not done properly, according to the author. Species that had long been scarce, such as deer and beavers, quickly repopulated to unsustainable levels.

The nail in the conservation coffin was sprawl - suburbs and the open but human inhabited land that formerly belonged to wildlife. Sprawl wasn't urban enough to wipe out wildlife, and animals quickly learned to stop fearing humans. Through no fault of their own, animals became pests. Beaver dams began flooding residential areas. Deer and automobiles don't get along. Geese produce feces at such a rate that they are a health hazard. Feral cat colonies have hunted rare birds to extinction. Even formerly brilliant wild turkeys have been dumbed down to dimwitted pests.

The sections on the importance of hunting to control populations, and use of instant-kill traps was very sad to read, but enlightening. I've always supported relocation programs, but was unaware that these programs rarely relocate an animal. Instead of killing it instantly in a humane trap, the poor animal is captured alive, caged until the trapper finds it, and then transported to be killed. In the rare event that an animal is relocated, it has an extremely low survival chance because new animals are not welcomed into other established animal territories. The author also discusses how people no longer fear animals - i.e., backyard bear feeding - and have created a $5 billion birdseed industry that happily dupes people.

Overall, it's an excellent read. I can't give it a full 5 stars though because despite the painstaking research and vast resources the author utilized, he misses a point: what should we be doing instead? It's more of a critique of current conversation techniques that offers no solution other than possibly extending hunting season.

I first heard about this book from a giveaway I entered but didn't win. That's what I like about giveaways - finding interesting titles like this one that I surely would have missed otherwise.
Profile Image for Nancy.
193 reviews
December 30, 2012
As a recipient of a First Reads copy of this book, I was interested to discover information relating to our own backyard battles with wildlife which have increased over the years. Covering the ecological history of this country from the first settlements to the present, using forests and five or six types of wild animals, it was surprising to me to learn that a number of issues championed by "green" groups are apparently not as dire as they would have the general population believe. The populations of deer, beaver, wild turkey and Canada goose, to name a few, far exceed that of anytime in the history of this country, and, because of that, cause quite a few problems with the human population trying to coexist along side them. Being a vegetarian, the thought of hunting has always been rather abhorent to me, but the scenarios presented in this book have changed my thinking on the matter, as the need to cull the too large numbers of certain wild animals appears to be the only truly effective way to manage their populations, both for their sakes, as well as ours.

I also appreciated the author's point that many Americans may be pro-nature and pro-ecology, but actually have very little real connection with the land, which is a large part of the problems occurring between man and wild beasts.
Profile Image for Lachinchon.
117 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2013
A very interesting and informative book, if not the final word on the subject. I picked this up because, like many/most adult boomers, the deer, turkeys, and geese so rare in my youth are now ubiquitous. Why? I am not convinced that Sterba has all the answers, but he certainly has some. Not living in New England, I am having a hard time accepting that we are now a nation of forest, more arboreal than pre-Columbian times; not in Iowa, where just keeping an uncultivated fence row is a political challenge. Yet I see wild turkeys strutting nonchalantly along roadways and grazing on lawns, and deer come into my yard (in the city) and eat our hostas. I walk my dog around "Goose Poop Lake". I would not yet call them "problem species", at least until Bambi hits my windshield, but I can see that there may be significant issues elsewhere. Of course, ultimately the problem is not too much nature but too much man, but I don't see culling the human population as a likely solution. Hence we need, in some sense, to "manage" nature [which, as Sterba points out, we already do in many ways, both intentional and not]. One final quandary: despite the inferred disapproval in the roadkill chapter, shouldn't we be trying to run down more of the critters to cull the herd?
Profile Image for Claire Grasse.
131 reviews22 followers
January 4, 2013
I'll be honest, this book is slow going. The subject matter is (to my mind) very important. The dilemma of wildlife and humans in competition for the same turf, and the misconceptions people hold about the fauna in their backyards are big issues. The problems are not going to go away any time soon, and as the author points out, there aren't going to be many solutions that make everyone happy. It's a problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, and Sterba does an excellent job of covering the ranges of possible solutions.

The problem is, it's not very... interesting. This is obviously one of those books that you read to be informed, not entertained. Sterba treats the subject matter with as light a hand as possible, but I've been slogging through it for months now, and still have to get through the last 1/3.

4 stars for execution, 2 stars for entertainment factor.
Profile Image for Lisa.
35 reviews
June 18, 2013
Nature Wars is a good read if you are not concerned about the issue of scale. Jim Sterba highlights a handful of species in a very small biogeographical region of the world that happens to also be in the wealthiest and most privileged nation. One who is not well informed about the challenges and threats to biodiversity on the whole of planet Earth could possibly read this work and erroneously conclude that things are not so bad concerning imperiled species. The book needs additional chapters on the effects of the consumption habits of U.S. Citizens on the world’s biodiversity at large and on the stark contrast of our wildlife management problems against those who live in places like India or Sub Saharan Africa. The book is not an academic resource or an all-encompassing work concerning the challenges of wildlife management and of co-existing with wildlife. Still, it’s worth your time.
Profile Image for Jeff Ransel.
74 reviews
September 12, 2017
This book did 2 of my favorite things in books, making you see something entirely different than you did before as well as showing you how something has changed in your lifetime without you having a clue it was happening.

While Sterba comes from a specific viewpoint about the need to better manage our relationship to wildlife, he makes what seem to be very fair arguments that often require tough decisions which have kind of gotten away from us in the last 50-100 years as farms have been replaced with forests.

He admits that some remedies he probably would have thought would have worked haven't, though, as mentioned he comes from a specific argument and doesn't get a lot of input from those on the other side of the argument. I will say the other side is often more vociferous and we have heard more of that side of the argument in the news. I can appreciate a well researched and thought out thesis even if it wais not my perspective before reading the book.
8 reviews1 follower
December 12, 2013
I'm giving this five stars, not because it's impossible to put down, but because it's well-researched and a very important book. Reading it has deepened and nuanced (is that a transitive verb?) my understanding of humanity's relationship to nature in the U.S. Our ideas and ideals about "wilderness" are far from the truth.

After reading this book, I am having second thoughts about my pescetarianism and think I should be eating deer instead.
June 29, 2019
Interesting discussion about the problems arising from human/animal interactions in our increasingly crowded world. The author presents some tough choices. Very informative. His arguments made me really examine some of my positions, particularly regarding TNR. I recommend this book to anybody who cares about human impacts on wildlife.
Profile Image for Illyria.
9 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2020
OI'm actually rather annoyed with myself for giving this book three stars as it frequently infuriated me to the point that I found myself ranting to whatever poor soul was nearest.

The content was very interesting to begin with. Sterba starts off by describing the devastating environmental impact European colonists had on the American landscape. However, this damage was not irreversible and Sterba describes how much of the Eastern United States has actually been undergoing reforestation in the last century and that the numbers of several wildlife species have consequently rebounded. These increased numbers have led to increased interactions between wildlife and humans.

Sterba devotes several chapters to describing the negative encounters between humans and several wildlife species (such as bears, deer, Canada geese, and beavers etc) that have arisen due to increased numbers of wildlife and increased suburban sprawl. This is where the quality of the book nosedives. Sterba, very briefly, mentions a number of different management strategies that are often suggested to mitigate the problem encounters between humans and wildlife. However, these strategies are labelled as inefficient, or too costly, or just generally useless. Thus, Sterba lectures that the ONLY management strategy that works is hunting/trapping. Any individual, organization, or academic that disagrees with him on this issue is presented as a naive, ignorant, snowflake who doesn't understand how nature and the real world work. This incredibly condescending attitude and extremely biased opinion really turned me off this book, as well as made me question the validity of the information contained inside.

I fully admit that I have my own biases. I am a environmentalist and while I'm not anti-hunting, I'm also not exactly pro-hunting. However, I was willing to put aside my own beliefs and read this book to learn more about hunting as a management technique. I was willing to accept new information, face my own biases, and potentially shift some of my opinions. But Sterba presents the issues in this book so one-sidedly and gives his opinion so heavy-handedly that I can't trust anything he says. He seems completely unaware of his own biases (hunting is great and is the solution for all problems ever!) and that his book is not a well-researched, well-rounded presentation of wildlife management strategies. Instead, it's a manifesto; it's propaganda. And instead of explaining or trying to understand different viewpoints, he instead demeans and abuses anyone who disagrees with his own strong opinions and overall comes off as an exceedingly arrogant and self-righteous individual.

So why three stars? Honestly, it's more like 2.5 stars but I suppose I chose this rating because this book presented me with entirely new information and an entirely new way of thinking when it comes to wildlife management and environmental conservation. I feel that I now somewhat understand the mindset of many hunters. And I also now see how conservation decisions are horribly complicated and delayed by arguments between different factions, such as pro-hunters vs anti-hunters. This book educated me on an issue I didn't know much about and for that it deserves a moderate rating.

Overall, this book can be an interesting read but don't think that it's an accurate, well-balanced presentation of wildlife management strategies. Rather it's more of a lecture by a smug, self-important, narcissist who wrote this book to shove his opinions down the public's throat.
Profile Image for Octavia Cade.
Author 83 books105 followers
February 11, 2021
This was certainly an interesting read! It's basically a series of case studies, set within the United States, of various species and the challenges of developing useful conservation strategies to deal with them. Most of the case studies here follow a very similar pattern: European colonists arrive in North America, and start exploiting beaver, birds, what have you, until their populations absolutely tank. At which point conservationists begin to appear, and start passing laws and developing wildlife refuges in order to save the remnant scraps of population from extinction. They are very successful... too successful.

It's clear that Sterba isn't referring to all (past or present) endangered species here, or even a good chunk of them. His focus is on the species that adapted, very quickly, to living with humans in built environments. The Canada geese that colonise city parks, the beavers that cause suburban flooding, the white-tail deer that start chewing on plants in people's gardens. The comebacks for these once endangered animals have become so successful that their populations have skyrocketed, in some cases past their natural carrying capacity... and that's not getting into monstrously effective introduced species like domestic cats. Sterba argues that many of these species are over-protected, to the point where their populations are causing enormous damage to ecology. And, in a New Zealand context, I get it. Possums were introduced here from Australia and have absolutely decimated the local flora and fauna, and if anyone tried to tell me they shouldn't be hunted or culled I would huff at them and repeat, as I have a thousand times before, that the only good possum is a dead possum. They are ecological menaces.

Sterba, though, makes no bones about the difficulty of managing two conflicting goals: protecting the animals and managing the ecology. There's so much emotion tied up on either side - cat lovers don't want the feral moggies killed, bird lovers are all for getting shot of kitties (often literally); people love beavers in their backyard until their property gets damaged, what about sportsmanship in hunting, how do we feel about bears really, and let's make sure we cull the geese before the school bus rolls by. It's just a welter of competing priorities and emotional minefields, as dedicated people on all sides argue about what's best for ecology and conservation management. I winced a little, sometimes, while reading, but these are arguments taking place now, and there's no solution to them yet.
July 11, 2019
I’m not sure what the author’s primary argument was in this book other than that kids these days need to get off their screens and appreciate nature for what it is like they did in the old days. It was an interesting collection of micro histories, although citations were sparse and I question the accuracy of some statements (just so we are all clear, tuberculosis is a BACTERIAL disease, and is not caused by a virus as described in the chapter on deer). Each chapter details a wild animal that is wrecking havoc on modern American life and the struggle between sensible hunters and wildlife biologists vs those bleeding heart, uninformed, but particularly vocal, advocacy groups. It’s unclear why the author chose these specific species to discuss and how they fit into the broader argument of the book. Why not discuss invasive exotic pets in Florida, or the circulation of emerging or re-emerging diseases in wildlife, or the role of captured wildlife (thinking of farm-raised white-tailed deer and elk) influence some of these arguments? Why discuss feral cats and not feral pigs? The book does bring up some good points and opens the topic for broader discussion, but the lack of organization, excessive personal anecdotes, and overall obvious bias have it reading more like a boomer with an ax to grind.
18 reviews
November 27, 2018
You can get away with just reading the epilogue as it is a semi-concise summary of the rambling, repetitive, and divergent main text (even so, the author manages to repeat himself and go on tangents in the epilogue). The author’s main point is that sprawl has disconnected people in the US from nature in a way that they cannot come up with viable solutions to their “nature wars” based on their experiences and instincts alone. However, as someone who views himself as enlightened and connected to nature (beginning from his farm-grown early years), the author offers no meaningful solutions himself. The few times he comes close to offering a solution to any individual problem, he immediately shoots it down as being too expensive or impractical. He probably would describe himself as a realist, but his negativity enters nihilism and leaves you with a feeling of “what’s the point?” What’s the point of even trying to address these problems? What’s the point of even reading this book?
Profile Image for The other Sandy.
205 reviews14 followers
June 27, 2018
It wasn't bad, but it wasn't what I was hoping it would be. I was hoping it would cover modern examples of the collision between humans and wildlife and examine solutions that have been successful, or at least discuss possible solutions. What I got was mostly history of natural resource use in the United States, with an occasional modern example of humans and wildlife conflicting and one chapter at the end that passingly mentions some possible solutions.

I just didn't really want to know that much about the history of the beaver trade, or the deer trade, or timber use through the ages, or any of the other topics he spent way more time talking about the history of than the modern problems with.
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