The Deadlock of Predator Management in the American West

I struggle to understand why people show such low regard for predators

Life has one final end, to be alive, and all the tricks and mechanisms, all the successes and the failures, are aimed at that end. -- John Steinbeck
1. Theory

Dismayed by human hostility toward predators, I often turn to great books of the past for ways to Dismayed by human hostility toward predators, I often turn to great books of the past for ways to rethink predator management in the American West.. The Land of Little Rain, Of Wolves and Men, and Sand County Almanac come to mind. But no book has done more to untangle the animus toward predators than John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts’ The Log from the Sea of Cortez. This book is a must read for everyone, though wildlife and land managers who want to improve the quality of their thinking and surpass the limitations of their own perspectives will find it especially useful. But first we must acknowledge a truism among wildlife managers with any degree of autonomy, which is that predator management is more about managing humans. And to manage humans, we must understand what makes them tick.

While the notion that humans are the crux of wildlife conflcit has merit in wildlife advocacy circles, the agricultural community would likely consider the idea as just one more example of how environmentalists are placing the well-being of wolves, grizzlies and other predators above their own. But is that what’s happening? Do we really have a predator problem and not a human problem? How do we decide? We need to explore these kinds of questions if we hope to bring fresh insights and new resolve to the deadly and litigious impasse of predator management. Although there are multiple data sets we could consider, we can start by examining anti-predator discourse, which is consistently characterized by lower-order thinking and emotion.

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Maximilian Werner is an Associate Professor (Lecturer) of Writing and Rhetoric Studies at the University of Utah.  His most recent book Wolves, Grizzlies, and Greenhorns–Death and Coexistence in the American West will be published later this year. Reach him at mswerner@gmail.com and @ProfMWerner.  

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