It is one of history’s great ironies that the same source that gave mankind its proverbial best friend also gave it one of its greatest nightmares. Yet while the domestic dog has long-since become a trusted companion and protector in most human societies throughout the world, the still wild descendants of their ancestors – even though most of us have long-since developed a lifestyle to which they are not even remotely a threat to our health or well-being – continue to haunt the minds of far more of us than will ever (much as we may wish to) actually see one. That isn’t, of course, to say that there aren’t some to whom this ancient fear (and from that fear, hatred) of wolves isn’t just a psychological remnant of our distant collective past. There are those – ranchers of cattle, sheep, and other pastoral animals – for whom the presence of wolves is a very real threat not only to their herds but potentially to the safety of themselves and their families as well.
So what happens when the residents in a state such as Oregon, from which the wild wolf was hunted out of existence in the early Twentieth Century, and in which a sizable amount of land is now involved in the raising of cattle and sheep, suddenly discover that after decades of absence the wolves are beginning to return? For some this news was greeted with jubilation, for others horror and outrage. However one thing united the majorities in both sides of the “wolf debate:” much of what they knew about these returning wolves was based far more on legend, rumor, and even occasionally fairy-tales than on facts. Mix into this the long-since simmering and recently worsening socio-economic and cultural rifts that roughly follow the geographic division of the state into its western and eastern halves, and the sudden appearance of wolves in the area created the focal point for a myriad of social, economic, political, and philosophical differences.
It is these very differences and how Oregon’s governmental officials sought to address them while simultaneously seeking to establish a management plan that reflected the concerns of any and all in the state who would be affected by the wolves’ return that Aimee Lyn Eaton uses as the central themes of her book Collared; Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country. By examining both the big picture of just how people react to wolves in the modern world, as well as the more specific story of how the people in one particular state tried – and indeed are still trying – to find a management solution that, while by no means perfect, will allow all the people of the state, regardless of their individual thoughts about wolves, as well as the wolves themselves, to live together, Ms. Eaton is able to present a commendably balanced picture of just how multi-faceted and complex the issues surrounding wolf conservation and management truly are.
But Collared is far more than just the recounting of the story of how the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan was created; it’s also an excellent source of information about the life history of wolves. From explanations about how they find mates, reproduce, form and live in packs, to how they communicate and hunt, to how and why they disperse into new areas, most everything necessary to begin breaking through the age-old fears of wolves and all the misinformation these fears have generated is all here. Written in what must be said to be one of the most natural and down-to-earth writing styles I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, everything included in Collared is clearly explained so that all of it very accessible to the novice. And, truth-be-told, when it comes to wolves, few people other than those working in the field and a small group of outside mammalogists, can really be said to be much more than novices.
By spending, in addition to her hours in front of a computer, an uncounted amount of time in the eastern Oregon diners, the western Oregon conference rooms, the cabs of old pick-up trucks, and hiking along the washes and trails of the Wallowas, Ms. Eaton has been able to acquire an understanding of what it is to see wolves through the eyes of a rancher, a conservation activist, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, and an ordinary concerned citizen. What’s more, by drawing on her professional background and training as both a journalist and a scientist, she’s able to convey all she learned in the process to the reader in a way that is not simply accurate and interesting but truly enjoyable to read.
The subject of wolves is a contentious one in any western state or province, and I highly recommend Collared for all who live in these areas – whether or not they think themselves interested in wolves at all. The subject, even when not in the headlines, is never far beneath the surface of another of the far more commonly discussed public issues from land use to economic development and stability to outdoor recreation. As such, it is important for all living in wolf country – be it Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, or, perhaps soon as one from an Oregon pack has dispersed there, California – to have a reliable foundation for understanding the subject when it does make the news. I also recommend it to all outside these areas as well, as it is purely and simply a very well written, interesting, and thoroughly enjoyable book. In its largest sense, Collared is not only about wolves but people as well; people with astonishingly different views of the world in which they live, who are honestly trying to work together for their own as well as the common good of their families, towns, and the larger society, to establish a set of rules under which they all – and the wolves as well – can live together with a minimal amount of disruption to their respective ways of life.
Author: Aimee Lyn Eaton
Publisher: Oregon State University Press
Pages: 176 pp.
Date: October 2013
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In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.