Wild ideas, reconsidered

 

Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
Jon Mooallem
328 pages, hardcover;  $27.95.
Penguin Press, 2013.

San Francisco-based author Jon Mooallem asks some hard questions in Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. Perhaps the hardest one, for those who love wildlife, is this: Why do we even bother? What are we saving when we save a threatened species? Why are we depressed by the notion of polar bear extinction, when most of us will never visit the Arctic or see a polar bear? Why spend decades fighting for a seemingly doomed butterfly subspecies that lives only on a tiny parcel of land next to a drywall plant, or go to surreal lengths to aid whooping crane migration, when climate change means the birds will soon lose the wetlands they need to survive, anyway?

Some readers may be frustrated by Mooallem's approach; for one thing, he doesn't appear to recognize any intrinsic value in animal life. He assumes conservationists aren't out to save polar bears for the sake of the polar bears, but so that the bears can be "preserved like a keepsake." At times, it also feels like Mooallem intentionally ignores the inconvenient truth that nearly all of the extraordinary things humans do to save animals are attempts to undo damage that humans are responsible for in the first place.

At its most fascinating, however, Wild Ones is a natural history, a history of the study of natural history, and an examination of the places wild animals hold in our collective imagination. It tackles subjects as disparate as the slaughter of buffalo in the American West, feuds between conservationists, and why "Billy Possum" – a stuffed animal created in honor of William Howard Taft – never grabbed public imagination the way the Teddy Bear did.

Mooallem ultimately makes a compelling case that, whatever the outcome, our drive for species conservation is an affirmation of human goodness, and something we should let guide us. Scientists believe half of all species may die out by the end of the century, but Mooallem contends there's beauty and hope to be found in trying to save them – particularly in the "achingly imperfect people working to achieve something more moral than they are."

High Country News Classifieds
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • SAGE GROUSE CCAA COORDINATOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a full-time Sage Grouse CCAA Coordinator. This position is part of a collaborative effort...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST
    Executive Director, Okanogan Land Trust Position Announcement Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, family farms, challenging politics, and big conservation opportunities? Do you have...
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers
  • BEAUTIFUL, AUTHENTIC LIVE YULE LOG CENTERPIECE
    - beautiful 12" yule log made from holly wood, live fragrant firs, rich green and white holly, pinecones and red berries. $78 includes shipping. Our...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA
    Crazy Horse Memorial, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is currently accepting applications and nominations for the Director of Programs for The Indian University...
  • CRAZY HORSE MEMORIAL® MANAGER OF RESIDENCE LIFE FOR THE INDIAN UNIVERSITY OF NORTH AMERICA®
    Crazy Horse Memorial is currently accepting applications for the Manager of Residence Life for The Indian University of North America. This position is responsible for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Are you an art lover who dreams of living in the mountains? Is fundraising second nature to you? Do you have experience managing creative people?...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Public Lands Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the multiple-use management of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, seeks an experienced leader...
  • COLD WEATHER CRAFTS
    Unique handmade gifts from the Gunnison Valley. Soy lotion candles, jewelry, art, custom photo mandalas and more. Check out the website and buy Christmas locally...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    North Cascades Institute seeks their next Executive Director to lead the organization, manage $4 million operating budget, and oversee 60 staff. Send resume/cover letter to...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.