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Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

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The award-winning story of the century-and-half-long attempt to control nature in the American wilderness, told through the prism of a tragic death at Yellowstone—now in paperback

In the summer of 1972, 25-year-old Harry Eugene Walker hitchhiked away from his family’s northern Alabama dairy farm to see America. Nineteen days later he was killed by an endangered grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. The ensuing civil trial, brought against the US Department of the Interior for alleged mismanagement of the park’s grizzly population, emerged as a referendum on how America’s most beloved wild places should be conserved. Two of the twentieth century’s greatest wildlife biologists testified—on opposite sides.

Moving across decades and among Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, and Sequoia National Parks, author and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith has crafted an epic, emotionally wrenching account of America’s fraught, century-and-a-half-long attempt to remake Eden—in the name of saving it.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published June 7, 2016

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About the author

Jordan Fisher Smith

2 books30 followers
Jordan Fisher Smith spent 21 years as a park and wilderness ranger in California, Wyoming, Idaho, and Alaska. His nonfiction book, ENGINEERING EDEN won a 2017 California Book Award and was longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The Wall Street Journal calls it "an intensely reported, rousingly readable and ambitiously envisioned book."

Jordan's previous book, NATURE NOIR, is a memoir of his surprisingly strange and dangerous work as a park ranger. NATURE NOIR was a Booksense Bestseller, an Audubon magazine Editor’s Choice, and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2005 pick.

Jordan has written for The New Yorker, TIME.com, Men’s Journal, Aeon, Discover, and Orion. He appeared in and narrated a documentary film about Lyme disease, “Under Our Skin,” which was shortlisted for the 2010 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
He has been a guest on various nationally syndicated radio programs including NPR’s Morning Edition, On Point, Living on Earth, and National Geographic Radio.

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5 stars
221 (36%)
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254 (41%)
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106 (17%)
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25 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 132 reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,216 reviews551 followers
July 18, 2016
Interesting and well researched subject, but the organization to the telling was frustrating. The trial case that begins the crux of the issue within Yellowstone and other National Parks with regards to ecosystem and predators which opens the first sections? Well, it's quickest to say that the trial then commences just past page 200. With 1000 characters and 200 years of history and practices in between, just a slight diversion?

So it was nearly impossible to follow the individual cases of historic record, beyond which the continuity was too problematic to enjoy the read for any specific scientific nugget. It was for me. Because it jumps from forest fire to ecosystem to specific people and different locations. It's all over the place.

And although he truly tries to relate the facts without bias or agenda, I think he rather failed in that aspect too. He clearly has a treatise here that animals and people do not belong in the National Parks together as presently the habit for administration and "control". Not under the current set of feeding enforcement/restrictions and placements.

The book is titled in the same pattern of faulty direction as the continuity. Not that it wasn't covered- but that death, trial and fight of the title case named remain just a smaller portion of the overall tome. Not even 25% related to it, IMHO.

In this exact time of news attention to the alligator in Disney taking the 2 year old- Jordan Fisher Smith is posing a strong argument overall throughout this non-fiction piece.

Some of the biographies of people involved in natural history and animal research, especially with the birds- would make great separate books.

Personally, I have never, ever understood that the national parks in the USA have in the past and still do in some cases, have such loose rules and naive overlooks to the reality of predators, ecosystems and "fun" camping as they do.

And this also lost an entire star for the numbers of descriptive minutia details in the numerous, numerous Grizzly attacks described. After awhile I didn't want to hear about scalp scraps any more.

I always believed that the story I heard endlessly in my youth was BS- concerning hiking, traipsing, camping out in the Midwest, North, and Western USA locations. It was mantra that the bear, wolf, mountain lion only attacked into bedrolls and tents without provocation when there were menstruating women present. Just not true at all! This book details why it is proximity to people feeding animals as a habit and in a certain place- repeated consequence of habituation. And that all that former rationalization and scientific "fact" was nothing of the sort.

If you are at all a National Park user, I would stronger recommend you read this book. It is a trudge to get to the evidence. You'll need to slog along through tracking, outcomes, replacements to location -if they (predators and bear especially) remain alive during the drugging and lifting processes for removal? They return to the "trouble" area quickly- far quicker than ever formerly presumed. All these decades of "controlling" habits by humans are reviewed by the dozens.

I'm fairly sure that within a decade or two people will be "out" of the biggest parks by Federal law. They are not truly playgrounds. But far beyond that is the fact that putting ourselves into the "know better/ preserve" function is inherently faulty and worsens far more often than it helps.

Nature always is changing itself- endlessly. Humans perceive at this point that they are the main and controlling/ destroying factors in ecosystems. As if they were the sun in our solar system and pivotal to all outcomes. They aren't.

Profile Image for Dan.
1,077 reviews52 followers
October 7, 2021
First the good.

Smith has a deep passion for National Parks having spent his career as a park ranger. He knows what he is talking about. I found many of the facts and the details of the park service's evolution on environmental policy to be quite interesting

This book is centered around the death of a young Harry Walker in 1972. He was mauled by a mature grizzly in Yellowstone where they had recently shut down the feeding dumps.

Now the bad.

This book's timeline is disorganized. The small sections are written well but there were dozens of different (and often disparate) threads about conservationists, rangers, prescribed burns, rock climbing in Yosemite etc. This was distracting to the telling of the central story and only at the end do even some of the threads come together beyond a vague notion of conservation.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for J.S..
Author 1 book51 followers
March 30, 2016
Guardians or gardeners?
We tend to look at National Parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite as slices of undisturbed nature in the midst of our ever-expanding civilization. However, this idea couldn't be further from the truth, according to Jordan Fisher Smith, who argues that our National Parks are among the most manipulated of anyplace that might be called wild.

An early goal of the national park system was that the land should be kept looking the way it looked before European explorers arrived. This ideal, however, is difficult to maintain and it brings up a lot of questions. Do you burn the land like the Indians (Native Americans) did? What do you do about predators, especially when those predators don't understand the boundaries and attack rancher's livestock? How many elk are too many? And what do you do when things seem to be out of whack?

Smith looks at the differing philosophies such as "natural regulation" and focuses mainly on fire, bears, and elk in the national parks. Running through his narrative is the story of Harry Walker who was killed by a grizzly bear in 1972 and the subsequent trial, but this is not what the book is about. Smith introduces us to John and Frank Craighead - a pair of twin brothers who studied bears and even gained a measure of celebrity; Starker Leopold, the son of Aldo Leopold and an eminent authority on wilderness thinking; and many others who influenced the way National Parks were run. There are lots of stories of bear attacks, but the overall theme of the book is how difficult our relationship with managing nature has been. Not all of the different threads seem to mesh together as nicely as the reader might hope, but I thought it was a very interesting history of our efforts to keep the land "natural."
Profile Image for Jules.
24 reviews20 followers
May 21, 2016
When I received this book, I originally thought that it was going to be about the trial regarding the bear attacks in Yellowstone. I thought to myself, "Anyone who enters Yellowstone should realize that they are entering a wilderness with bears; therefore, a bear attack is a real possibility and a risk. How can someone place blame on the National Park Service?" It never occurred to me that the mismanagement of the bears could have played a role in the attacks. But what does that mean? Isn't a national park an area dedicated to protecting the land and the animals from human influence? How do we control a bear's behavior? Should we control a bear's behavior? So many questions! This book takes you through the history of Yellowstone and the events, persons, and decisions preceding the fatal bear attacks.

To my surprise, the book is not limited to the bears in Yellowstone. It also refers to other debatable issues such as what to do about the effects of the loss of wolves. We even step outside of the Yellowstone boundaries to visit the problems in Yosemite, the Tetons, and the Everglades. The underlying question always being, now that humans have influenced the environment of the national parks, how do we fix it? Do we try to manipulate the environment to get it "back on track", or do we cross our fingers and hope that nature will fix itself?

It's been 2 weeks since I've finished reading this book, but it is still on my mind. I never realized how much work was involved in running the national parks, and how one decision can change the course of...well, everything. Any book that has completely changed my point of view deserves 5 stars!

I received this book for free through a Goodreads Giveaway.
Profile Image for Ev.
70 reviews5 followers
May 14, 2016

Engineering Eden by Jordon Fisher Smith

Not an easy read, but an important one.

This book is not for everyone. It is far from a casual read, yet is not exactly a text book either. Mr. Fisher Smith tells a lot of the history of our National Park Service (NPS) from its beginnings with Yellowstone. As a veteran park and wildlife ranger, he knows his subject matter from experience. The original plan was to have places where the entire public could go to see our wildlife in their natural habitats. There was no working model for such a thing and the NPS had to devise as they went. As society has changed and grown with different expectations, so have the plans for these areas. This is an area that will always have divisions as there will always be interests groups deeply imbedded on both sides of the issue of protection of the resources vs. allowing building and recreational fees for financial gain. This is even more deeply divisive because of low funding provided by the federal government for their support. The reader needs to keep in mind, that there was no way of knowing what these costs would be when the service was initiated.

My memory of our family trip to Yellowstone when I was in elementary school, is still clear to my mind. It was more years ago than I care to say, but suffice it to say, far fewer tourists were present and very few buildings were available. Even at that early age, I knew I was expected to follow the rules and keep the camp site clear of food or anything that would attract animals from invading our area. Notices were posted everywhere warning not to feed the bears and if they were spotted to stay clear of them. Mostly everything was a common sense issue. Yet there were still those who pushed the rules. As we waited in the car to get to a geyser site, a bear was meandering through the line of stopped vehicles and although most people stayed in their cars, there was one woman who advanced towards the bear, totally ignoring park rules. Fortunately someone guided her away before there was a confrontation. The part of the book that was difficult for me was reading about the attacks, especially the one on Harry Walker, the man killed. The telling is very descriptive, as it should be.

Mr. Smith writes about other issues in the parks and how man tries to control nature and manages to create even more difficulties. Approximately the last third of the book is dedicated to the actual trial with the Walker family. All the major players are visited and it is obvious the writer did his homework and researched the subject. This killing by a bear is the example he uses to show fully how the opinions of natural management vs. tourists collide.

The issues aren’t going to be going away anytime soon. Sadly there are too many differences of opinion on how these lands should be managed. Just how much man can control nature and if he should even try to do so. Is there a way for the different groups to come together in agreement? With rapidly vanishing resources, though, the bigger question should be how we protect what we have for future generations to enjoy as have past ones.

At the beginning of this review I mentioned this book is not for everyone, and it isn’t. However, students of management programs and those deeply interested in issues of the environment and preserving our natural resources, along with those very interest in our parks, I think will enjoy it. Visiting these parks is a far cry from visiting an amusement park and tourists must learn this ahead of time and honor the rules for their own safety and the safety of all park visitors, so education is vital. If a reader has only a casual interest in these subjects, they may want to pass, as it may contain way too much information, and the descriptive/graphic attacks.

I received this book as a contest winner at The Reading Room. This review is solely my own and not a requirement.

Profile Image for Liam || Books 'n Beards.
528 reviews49 followers
February 28, 2022
Giving a wild animal food is perhaps the most potent way to influence its behaviour ... At Yellowstone and other national parks, the behaviour rangers inadvertently taught to bears was to overcome their reticence to approach people.

ENGINEERING EDEN has been on my radar ever since I read Jordan Fisher Smith's other book, NATURE NOIR, which explored his time as a park ranger in California. ENGINEERING EDEN however is, ostensibly, about the management of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, and the trial Martin vs. United States over the death of Harry Walker by grizzly bear attack.

National Parks (and any attempt by humans to preserve 'nature', in general) fascinate me - the entire concept is one of the few things that give me faith that as a species we can possibly come together to correct the damage we're doing to the planet.

Something I loved about NATURE NOIR was that while it related anecdotes from Smith's time as a ranger, it used each anecdote as an excuse or a jumping off point to explore a facet of National Parks - cougar control, erosion of mountains, and several other things.

ENGINEERING EDEN essentially repeats this. Using the trial of Martin v. United States as a platform, the book is a fairly comprehensive overview of the history of Yellowstone National Park, and of National Parks in general, and specifically the management of black and brown bears in US national parks - as well as being a character study and biography of several major players, including John and Frank Craighead, Starker Leopold, and others.

I absolutely inhaled this book. The frame and format, introducing a concept at the trial and then going on to expand on that concept and its history for the rest of each chapter, was very compelling. Can a book about National Park history be considered a thriller? It's the only thing I can think of to describe it.

Learning about the early missteps of the National Park service - culling predators, allowing elk populations to skyrocket, destroying the vegetation in the park, leading to thousands of elk starving to death during the winter; intentionally feeding bears for visitors to watch, encouraging people to feed bears as part of the 'national park experience' - was endlessly fascinating and cringe-inducing, knowing what we know now.

Smith seems to have done an insane amount of research to produce this book - especially based off the notes at the end for each chapter - and his writing style is eminently readable.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this to anybody with even a passing interest in National Parks and mankind's attempts to preserve nature.
62 reviews16 followers
June 28, 2019
As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with how nature interacts with the environment. I was the kid watching documentaries on earthquakes, floods, & hurricanes. As an adult I’ve become just as fascinated with how humans interact & largely alter the environment. Author & former National Park Ranger’s Jordan Fisher Smith’s book Engineering Eden explores that interaction using the way animals, the environment & humans have interacted at Yellowstone National Park to explore broader questions about how humans have altered both the environment & animal behavior.

Smith uses the text to prove a theory espoused by naturalist John Muir … “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The book documents decades of infighting over the vision of the National Parl. Smith uses bear feeding & attacks, elk expansion & culling, and fire setting & management to tell the story of the evolving vision of the park.

Smith uses debates over feeding & not feeding bears to analyze how an almost schizophrenic desire to infantilize bears, categorizing them as good or bad, and either feeding or not feeding them drove park policy for decades with little scientific rational. He argues that by first conditioning bears to human food, & then summarily removing that food led first to bears losing their fear of humans, & then to an increase in bear aggressiveness.

This is a fascinating book & for me personally it’s a five-star read, but objectively I think for most readers it would be a three-star read. Structurally the book is a bit problematic. The book is billed as a court saga but that entails maybe 8-9% of the book & really feels like a distraction more than a central premise. I’m also not sure most readers will be interested in the long passages focusing on increases in elk populations. And even for me the discussion of the role of fire grew tedious. However, for anyone interested in why bear attacks have escalated in recent decades, Smith’s book provides an excellent analysis of why humans & bad policies in national parks have inadvertently caused that increase & will continue to pay the price for those mistakes in the decades to come….
Profile Image for Amerynth.
799 reviews24 followers
May 24, 2017
I received a copy of Jordan Fisher Smith's "Engineering Eden: The true story of a violent death, a trial and the fight over controlling nature" through LT's Early Reviewer's program.

If you're interested in the history of ecology and management of natural resources (or non-management as the case may be,) this is definitely the book for you. Smith has packed this book with a ton of interesting information about how management of national parks like Yellowstone has changed over the years.

At the heart of the story are grizzly bears and the early practice of feeding bears and the later ramifications when that was stopped. Poor options for food storage, as well as removal of the foods bears came to depend on had fatal consequences for several, including Harry Walker, who was killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone. His parents sued the government and much of the Smith's book is structured around that lawsuit.

I thought the book had a few structural problems -- the lawsuit story was broken up into such small segments, it felt really choppy. Sometimes the book felt like a dissertation that was turned into a commercial work, so the different threads came together in odd ways. However, all of those different stories and histories were pretty interesting overall, making this a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Erin Cataldi.
2,181 reviews77 followers
November 21, 2016
Fascinating, disturbing, and enlightening, this raw epic look at the National Parks and regulating nature will leave readers enthralled. Covering a lot of ground, "Engineering Eden," covers a brief history of the creation of Yellowstone National Park, the fight over controlling nature, and a major trial involving the death of a young man mauled and eaten by a grizzly. Although it covers a lot of ground and introduces many key players this book doesn't feel too overwhelming and introduces readers to a complex history without being too overwhelming. Covering many gruesome bear attacks, the fight between being a guardian versus gardening national parks, controlled fires, the role of government, and public safety this book has enough to satisfy anyone: outdoor enthusiasts, wildlife lovers, and history buffs. A wonderful and enlightening read.

I received this book for free from Librarything in return for my honest, unbiased opinion.
Profile Image for BMR, LCSW.
649 reviews
June 27, 2017
I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway last year, but I just got around to reading it.

To quote BOC, "History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men."

Don't feed the bears, lock up your food in bear proof containers. Also, the US Government will always cover up the truth when it comes to their mismanagement that results in the death of people and animals. The End.
Profile Image for Shawn.
Author 6 books22 followers
July 13, 2016
As others have noted, the structure of this book can be maddening. I am perfectly ok with non-linear historical narratives, but it was problematic here.
Profile Image for Jenifer.
1,008 reviews29 followers
August 19, 2019
Are our national parks public playgrounds for the pleasuring and enjoyment of the people or should they be a preservation from injury or spoilation of natural curiosities and wonders for retention in their natural condition?

Is either one even possible? As more and more people inhabit our public parks how do we manage their inevitable impact on the resources and wildlife there? Can we afford to let numberless people move uninhibited and uncensored in these precious places?

Should we truly let the parks be preservations of nature? Is that even possible? How much should we try to control nature in order to save it?

And what happens when we get it wrong? This book was a super interesting history of some of the many efforts in Yellowstone as well as several other Western United States National Parks with an emphasis on two of the most controversial subjects; fires and bears. We have done some things right and made many mistakes. The answers to all of the questions of course, depend on whose interests are at stake.
Profile Image for Kyle.
29 reviews
May 21, 2021
As frustrating as the frequent time and subject hops are, they don’t distract too much from the underlying message Smith is building to: Should we let nature run it’s course even if it takes a hard turn due to anthropogenic activity, or do we get our hands dirty and help nature keep its straight path? This book walks through how that debate trickled down the Parks Department’s actions in the late 20th century. I’m glad the book expanded to topics of much greater scale than just the trial of Henry’s death; without the dips into fire, predator, and prey control as well as the intellectual struggle between Park and external scientists the greater question would have been less defined and the book not as impactful.
Profile Image for Joan.
461 reviews28 followers
June 19, 2017
Beautifully written. Well researched. Chalk full of fascinating stories and interesting events. I especially enjoyed it as I've camped and hiked in locations that are important National Park scenes in this book. The history of ecosystem management, with a special focus on bears, was very interesting.
Profile Image for Jordan Forster.
2 reviews1 follower
April 8, 2020
This is a must-read for anyone interested in the relationship between man and nature.

The book focuses on a historic debate regarding the management of bears in Yellowstone National Park, and reveals a cultural battle between two competing philosophies of nature: one being that nature, left to its own devices, is self correcting and will reach a self-regulating equilibrium; and the other being that man is the steward of the environment, and is fundamental in the sustainment of nature.

I found this book devastating for a number of reasons, two of which I’ll mention. Firstly, it demonstrates that the ‘Wilderness’ we have romanticised, as environment flourishing outside of human interference, is an illusion. It is environment shaped by tens of thousands of years of indigenous land management, through ritual burnings, hunting and low-impact agriculture - these being conducted so inconspicuously that evidence of the practices were hardly noticed by early western explorers.

Secondly, it makes clear that natural processes have many steady-state end points, only some of which are pleasing to us. Human interruption of natural processes has been so great that it is now a pipe-dream to think that leaving the natural environment alone will result in things going back to the way they once were. Instead, what is often required to restore an ecology is even MORE intervention, to coax and prod things back to a more favourable and biodiverse state. This is exemplified in the book by a short-sighted plan to return bears back to a natural diet by simply cutting off all access to the energy-dense human food they had become adapted to, after decades of being fed at feeding shows held for delighted tourists. The consequences of this proved to be disastrous for both park visitors and the bears. The solution? Management of bears on an unprecedented scale, using cutting edge satellite surveillance technology.

By the end I was left with a more resolved sense of purpose and a reduced burden of eco-guilt. The book was also just plain fun to read, as it is host to a fascinating range of real life characters that occupied the Parks Service from its conception until the near present day.
Definitely worth picking up if you come across a copy!

Profile Image for Grady.
621 reviews37 followers
December 22, 2019
I expected this would be a fair-to-middling, somewhat sensationalized, journalistic take on wildlife management in Yellowstone. But it’s actually far better than that - it’s a deep and thoughtful history of a century of wildlife and fire management in the Western US, with colorful personalities and years of research lined up behind two competing visions. The first: human beings have already messed up so many ecosystems across North America, the best thing we can do is set aside wilderness and preserved areas and leave them completely alone (except for hosting loads of visitors in them and trying to help interest what the see). The second: by degrading and unbalancing natural systems, we’ve pushed them so far out of balance that they’ll never return to a healthy balance on their own - to restore the historic balances, we need to intervene regularly, and often aggressively (while also trying to accommodate visitors, but maybe by managing them more aggressively also).

Smith organizes his story around a specific court case, a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the Park Service by the family of a young man killed by a grizzly in Yellowstone in 1971. That’s allowed the publisher to wrap the history in a true-crime-vibed cover - and the tale certainly has the tragic elements and deep-dive personality sketches characteristic of that genre - but it’s also a very fine history and collective biography of the 20th century giants of wildlife conservation, and a perceptive analysis of how the National Park Service bureaucracy made and adjusted its management policy over time.

Today, both of the core perspectives - wilderness vs ecological restoration - have been rendered at least partly moot by climate change. No amount of walling off wilderness from human incursion can protect it from the impacts of global climate change - shifting temperatures, more intense precipitation, higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, supporting more vigorous growth of vines. Yet, aggressive restoration efforts are unlikely to restore historic communities, because - again thanks to climate change - many of those original communities are no longer viable. Most of the conservationists I know believe in protecting as much natural land as possible, studying as many species as we can afford to study, and intervening where we can to help natural communities adapt to climate change, bringing with them as many species as possible. Thus, to read this book is also to feel the melancholy of transience: the actors on all sides of the topic are gone or going, and the positions to which scientists and managers committed years of their lives have passed as well. At least so many of them - including the young man killed by the grizzly, in his way - lived their lives connected to the land.
Profile Image for Kate.
58 reviews
August 24, 2020
An exceptionally well-told tale interweaving the history of National Park management with the lives of those who worked to improve it and the lives of those lost at the hands of its mismanagement. The story explores the competing theories of the function of National Parks - as wilderness that should be left untouched and to balance itself; as a destination for tourists to see wild animals and experience nature; or as something in between to be enjoyed by visitors and respected as a larger ecosystem that ebbs and flows. This book left me with a desire to learn more about wildlife and park management as well as a laundry list of other books and writings to consume.
2 reviews
March 12, 2023
I agree with other reviewers that while this book is full of incredible stories and the author takes the time to really explore the fight to control (or not control) nature, there are so many storylines and important people that it can be hard to keep things straight and it does seem to bounce around quite a lot. Many times while reading this I found myself wishing I had an outline to help me follow the author's train of thought or a web to help me keep all of the relevant people straight.

I don't quite think it deserves four stars but I feel like it deserves more than three stars, so here I am.
Profile Image for Greg Bem.
Author 6 books14 followers
August 22, 2022
Super compelling read that blends history with true crime with ecology. A deep dive into how the national parks were evolved over time through control and technology. A lot of gruesome stories concerning bears and fires. Great way to stop taking advantage of the pristine NPS.
Profile Image for John Yunker.
Author 13 books56 followers
July 5, 2016

The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. And while a century may seem like a long time, it's safe to say, after reading Engineering Eden, that we're only just beginning to understand how to best manage our lands.

Fundamental to management is the question of how "wild" do we want our parks to be? Author Jordan Fisher Smith writes:

There are two ways in which most people don't wish to die: by being torn apart by a wild animal and by being roasted in flames. These two abject fears from deep in the ape-psyche, became, in the American West, bloated government programs, the two-headed dragon that Starker Leopold fought all his life.

In the early days of the park systems, we waged a war on predators that effectively eradicated them from most of the United States. In 1915, Congress authorized the killing of 11,000 coyotes in California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and Utah. Wolves, bobcats, mountain lions were also killed in massive numbers, primarily to rid the government lands of predators that might attack livestock.

Interestingly, bears were largely given a pass in our national parks because they were a major tourist attraction. Shows were conducted in Yellowstone in which people would sit in bleachers to watch bears congregate at food dumps that the park service maintained. When these food dumps were closed in 1970 in an effort to create a more "balanced" ecosystem, a concept championed by naturalists such as Starker Leopold, chaos ensued. Hungry bears scoured campgrounds for food and came into conflict with humans.

The main narrative of the book centers around the story of one man mauled to death by a grizzly in Yellowstone Park in 1972 and the legal case that followed.

Smith covers a lot of material in this book, from elk hunting in Yosemite to controlled burning in Sequoia National Park, which at times may feel a bit overwhelming. But I appreciated the wealth of detail. And I empathized with the struggles that the park managers faced in trying to create environments that were both wild and safe. This isn't Disneyland after all.

I also was not aware just how far back in history people were feeding bears from their cars -- as in the 1920s! And bears were tearing their way into cars back then as well. Even then there were those who recommended that secure food storage was essential to living more harmoniously with these 400-pound neighbors. Sadly, it took too many decades until food storage became as well established as it is today.

Engineering Eden documents important and at times deeply tragic missteps in the evolution of our park system. Hopefully the next 100 years will be far more "balanced."

Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature

NOTE: This review was first published on EcoLit Books: http://www.ecolitbooks.com/
Profile Image for Jeremy.
15 reviews
January 22, 2019
Engineering Eden is a fascinating book on the history of management practices throughout U.S. National Parks. The story of Harry Walkers death in 1972 by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone was creatively woven into Smith's discussion on environmental and natural resource management. As a graduate student in this field, I have learned about management practices such as population monitoring, hunting, prescribed burning, predator control, and artificial stocking. What this book introduced to me was how current management practices were slowly developed, debated, and tested over decades. Now they are widely used across various land management agencies. It makes me wonder what improvements or modifications we will see in how our public lands are managed 50 years from now. Will they still exist? Or, will there be even larger conservation areas that are interconnected and allow movement of wildlife among them? Through this book, the concept of Nature is brought into question. What we often consider to be "nature" or "natural" has been influenced by human populations over the last 10,000 years and will continue to be engineered by us. In a recent conversation I had with a group of Ecologists, someone asked about where humans fit regarding the social construct of Nature. Are we a part of Nature? Are we separate from it? One person, who was more educated in philosophy than myself, mentioned that there are some indigenous cultures who believe that humans are a type of sister concept to nature; separated from yet still connected to Nature. Despite the complicated philosophical discourse generated by this book, I really liked reading it and enjoyed the creative way in which it was written.

A lot of people reading and commenting on this book received it through some Goodreads give-away or drawing. It seems like people are reading it just because it was given to them, not because they intentionally wanted to read it. I was given a copy of this book by a professor from my undergraduate program. He somehow ended up with two copies and decided to share one with me. I am grateful that he did. At first I was not sure if I wanted to read it. I already have a long list of books to read and may have subconsciously judged it by its cover. I read it next anyway so I could share my review of it with the professor. I am glad I took the time to read it.
90 reviews11 followers
September 20, 2017
Smith certainly did his research for this book, but there were times when the amount of detail bogged down the book. For example, I didn't need to know that two scientists married half sisters from Alaska who never showed up in the story again.
Also, the second part of the title for this book is misleading. So much of the book talks about the history of national parks, various wildlife-management schools of thought, fire-fighting, etc., which all fall into the broad story of engineering "eden," but they didn't remotely fall into the story of the trial, so that took me a while to accept that half of the book wasn't about the trial at all and it was just a tease to get me to read the book. I enjoyed the topics that made up the other half of the book since I was ignorant of much of the information (and it inspired me to read about them more), but at times it was slow with the lack of plot, and confusing trying to remember how the various scattered paragraphs pulled together. I recommend the book for anyone who wants to visit national parks, but if you find a similar novel with less of the scattered story, opt for that other novel.
Profile Image for Quinndara.
203 reviews4 followers
October 11, 2016
Surprisingly interesting book about the policy conflicts around National Parks and how to best manage them: to intervene with nature or to leave it be with minimal interference. As the title says, it is a true story of a young man devoured by a grizzly in 1972, largely because of Bob Cole and Jack Anderson's refusal to implement recommendations made by two scientists, Frank and John Craighead, about how to manage weaning the bears from feeding in the waste dumps. The author presents the arguments over what our role in wilderness should be. He names the significant players who influenced policy and contributed to present day management. It was a thorough introduction to these issues and a good read.
Profile Image for Chad.
186 reviews1 follower
April 17, 2019
I was initially turned off by the sensationalist title of this book. I guess that’s what you need to get people to pick up the book. But it was just what I was looking for. The author uses the court case from the grizzly killing as a keyhole into exploring the history of the management of the national parks. I’ve always loved national parks, thought of them as treasures, and fought for more protected public lands. But it hadn’t quite occcurred to me how controversial the science would be around how we preserve and protect the landscapes, the plants, and the animals. There are a lot of different ways to think about it. It’s a fascinating history and still has me thinking about the question: what are we trying to restore, preserve, create in our national parks? A great read.
Profile Image for Lauren Glowacky.
145 reviews
February 18, 2021
Very interesting read centering on Bear management in the National Parks. Philosophies were changing in the 60s and 70s and even scientists were in disagreement on how to manage the wildlife populations. Previously, bears had been fed as "entertainment" for the park visitors. This had gotten the bears acclimated to humans and that was not a good thing - for the bears or the humans. Several fatal incidents occurred within the National Parks and for the first time, the Park Service was put on trial to compensate the victims and bring to light the mismanagement of the animals. I found it interesting because my sons have worked in several of the Parks mentioned in the book. All in all a very good read.
Profile Image for Rachele.
7 reviews
March 31, 2022
I devoured every page of this book (no pun intended with the bear theme). Fascinating! I’ve never read anything that so succinctly describes ecology and humans’ role in it. I feel I have a much better understanding of why the National Parks operate the way they do, even though I spent a summer living in one. Although the content of the book can be dark, Smith ends the book on a hopeful call to action: humans need to do their part in maintaining ecosystems. A must-read for everyone with an interest in parks!
Profile Image for Carly.
759 reviews3 followers
January 6, 2017
A riveting history of wildlife management in national parks and the civil trial that put into focus the question are we guardians or gardeners. Smith's passion for the subject really shines through.

I won this book from Goodreads.
August 16, 2022
Very interesting about what goes into the thought behind national parks. Info jumped around everywhere sadly
Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,419 reviews97 followers
May 30, 2019
The author notes in this book that the views of people regarding national parks and their regulation and operation invariably involves political matters, and that is certainly the case here.  It is not very hard to figure out the author's own political views.  The hero of the book is a personal injury lawyer who once lost to Nixon in a Congressional election, he regularly praises whistleblowers and mocks the aspect of Wyoming law that makes it impossible for people to claim damages for wrongful death or injury if the victim is even partially to blame.  We're clearly dealing with an activist leftist here who views personal injury law as heroic rather than parasitic in nature.  And even as someone whose views are different than those of the author, I still found much in here to appreciate, namely with regards to the failures of the government and the recognition that it was impossible not to manage nature in Yellowstone or anywhere else, and the author's insistence on design, even if he gave pro forma discussions of unnatural selection in Yellowstone throughout the book.

This book of about 300 pages is divided into four parts.  The first ten chapters take up the first part of the book, which is about Yellowstone as an American Eden, beginning with the filing of a case in Los Angeles, a comparison of the view of bears and nature in Yosemite and Yellowstone, and a discussion of the various people and animals that the book will be dealing with, including the bears of Trout Creek.  The author then moves on to thirteen chapters involving natural regulation, including the killing of a lot of bears, the various political games involving scientists and wardens in the Park Service, and the relationship of attacks to efforts on the part of park staff to control food without feeding the bears properly.  Four chapters look at the experience of Harry Walker in Yellowstone, including his last night when he was killed by a starving old bear, and then the last five chapters of the book look at the trial in more detail as well as its verdict and the successful appeal by the Park Service that prevented any money from being paid to the Walkers, and even some of the discussion on various laws that were urged to pay the Walkers out of tax money that were sniffed out by those opposed to this sort of pork barrel legislation.

In looking at this book, it is clear that Harry Walker did contribute to his own death through his rather foolish decision to stay in an illegal campsite.  That said, it is also clear that the behavior of the government with regards to the bears of Yosemite and the desire on the part of park rangers to make things appear as natural as possible without sufficiently securing food supplies as best as possible and then making up various myths like women in their periods attracting bears through the blood or scent of the menses was irresponsible as well, in that it amounted to blaming the victim for something that was not entirely the fault of people attacked by bears either.  While I am not sure whether or not the Walker family deserved any money from the government for Harry's death, it is pretty clear that the park service did not crown themselves with glory when it came to their bear policies in Yellowstone and other places, and that they clearly let their own political worldviews get in the way of protecting people, even those people who had certainly made some errors in life and were not behaving in the best way or the most proper way themselves.  
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