Moving In

After waging war on wildlife for decades—hunting them for fur and feathers, building suburbs and shopping centers in their habitat and thinning their numbers with speeding minivans—they’ve bounced back. Jim Sterba, a longtime New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter, explores the escalating conflicts between people and the wild world in Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds (Crown Publishing, 2012).

Sterba lays out the problems: efforts to control Canadian geese flocks (and their feces) resulting in municipal unrest and attacks on public officials; a resurgence of coyotes now suspected in the disappearances of small pets; moose sauntering onto highways; woodpeckers acting like nail-guns on house siding; and expanding numbers of cougar, black bear and gray wolves getting too close for comfort.

Nature Wars traces the roots of these problems with some surprising revelations. Sterba contends that despite continued sprawl, the US. has experienced a reforestation which provides increased habitat for wildlife. He notes that conservation efforts have not only brought species back but some are now overabundant. And, he writes, people have become “denatured”—removed from nature and withdrawn into an inside world— and their disconnected thinking causes problems for animals.

Sterba’s detailed stories illuminate the problems that have emerged from the woods around us. He calls the increased interactions “a new way of living for both man and beast, and Americans haven’t figured out how to do it.” Bewilderment about whether to enjoy, adjust to, move or remove wildlife has led to relations between people and nature that have “never been more confused, complicated, or conflicted.”

The animals emerging from the woods, Sterba explains, are not furry friends or outdoor pets—they are wild animals. He identifies our feeding them as one of the reasons why many animal species “have done a far better job of accommodating to life among people than vice versa.”