Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
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"Ambitious and fascinating... [Mooallem] seamlessly blends reportage from the front lines of wildlife conservation with a lively cultural history of animals in America." --New York Times Book Review
Journalist Jon Mooallem has watched his little daughter’s world overflow with animals butterfly pajamas, appliquéd owls—while the actual world she’s inheriting slides into a great storm of extinction. Half of all species could disappear by the end of the century, and scientists now concede that most of America’s endangered animals will survive only if conservationists keep rigging the world around them in their favor. So Mooallem ventures into the field, often taking his daughter with him, to move beyond childlike fascination and make those creatures feel more real. Wild Ones is a tour through our environmental moment and the eccentric cultural history of people and wild animals in America that inflects it—from Thomas Jefferson’s celebrations of early abundance to the turn-of the-last-century origins of the teddy bear to the whale-loving hippies of the 1970s. In America, Wild Ones discovers, wildlife has always inhabited the terrain of our imagination as much as the actual land.
The journey is framed by the stories of three modern-day endangered species: the polar bear, victimized by climate change and ogled by tourists outside a remote northern town; the little-known Lange’s metalmark butterfly, foundering on a shred of industrialized land near San Francisco; and the whooping crane as it’s led on a months-long migration by costumed men in ultralight airplanes. The wilderness that Wild Ones navigates is a scrappy, disorderly place where amateur conservationists do grueling, sometimes preposterous-looking work; where a marketer maneuvers to control the polar bear’s image while Martha Stewart turns up to film those beasts for her show on the Hallmark Channel. Our most comforting ideas about nature unravel. In their place, Mooallem forges a new and affirming vision of the human animal and the wild ones as kindred creatures on an imperfect planet.
With propulsive curiosity and searing wit, and without the easy moralizing and nature worship of environmental journalism’s older guard, Wild Ones merges reportage, science, and history into a humane and endearing meditation on what it means to live in, and bring a life into, a broken world.
--And don’t miss the album based on the book: WILD ONES by Black Prairie. Digital release on May 14; physical release on June 11--
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). Thanks to Etienne for sharing some of his leftover research as well. To understand Greenpeace’s standoff with the Russian whaling vessel, I relied, again, on Burnett’s The Sounding of the Whale; on the 2012 documentary film A Fierce Green Fire by Mark Kitchell; and on coverage in the New York Times. I also interviewed the historian Frank Zelko, author of a forthcoming history of Greenpeace. (It was during that interview that Zelko compared.
Camps. * Necedah’s wetlands were drained for agriculture a century ago. But, as a Fish and Wildlife Service history of the refuge puts it, “after a series of intense peat bog fires in the 1930s, many settlers abandoned their homesteads.” So, in 1939, the land was flooded again as a public works project and turned into a wildlife refuge. Its wetlands still need to be meticulously flooded and drawn down to maintain just the right habitat for birds. You’d never know by looking at it,.
Boasted, anyone with “strength, sense and health” could gather up enough to live on with minimal effort, no matter how rich or poor. It was a crisp articulation of what we now know as the American Dream. It never dawned on anyone that those species could be driven extinct. But by the late nineteenth century, it was clear that America was overdrawing its natural wealth, and some took the ongoing extermination as a troubling gauge of where the industrializing nation was heading. The rapid.
Asked him to imagine he was in charge of managing the dunes. What would he do? He couldn’t answer. “So little of the habitat that made the place special is left,” he said. That afternoon in Antioch, Powell was surveying the dunes as part of an annual nationwide butterfly count—a tally of all species, not just the Lange’s. Euing had loaned him a key to the refuge gate, and he’d let himself in. He walked within ten yards of our group without exactly approaching us, curious but seeming not to.
Wonder how potent a symbol the polar bear even was anymore. A few years earlier, the bear had helped install climate change as the central issue of American environmentalism. But since then the percentage of Americans who even believe the issue is real had plunged. A poll released a few days before I’d arrived in Churchill, from the Pew Research Center, showed that only 34 percent of Americans believed that humans were altering the climate. Congressmen were once again openly dismissing the idea.