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Know the West

Sometimes it's hard to tell who the turkeys are

  So you think wildlife biology is a science? Sure it is, if estimating wild turkey populations by counting the birds that run across the road in front of your truck is "science."

In Stalking the Big Bird, an often-amusing tale of his 27 years with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, biologist Harley Shaw reveals just how quirky the field can be. Shaw takes the reader out for in-the-trenches turkey research, where we learn not to point capture-net cannons in our own direction, and discover that mountain lions sometimes respond to turkey calls. We meet interesting characters, such as the biologist who believes that eating drumsticks is a bona fide part of turkey research.

Unfortunately, as Shaw points out, wildlife biology is often subservient to politics: A trip to the office reveals how the U.S. Forest Service often manages forests for timber alone, ignoring the needs of wildlife for plant biodiversity.

Shaw sums up his message with his own wry humor: "Given the complexities created by multiple human desires, the management of wildlife begins to look hopeless."

Stalking the Big Bird: A Tale of Turkeys, Biologists and Bureaucrats
Harley Shaw, 141 pages, softcover: $17. 95: University of Arizona Press, 2004.