338 pages, b/w photos, b/w illustrations
It used to be: If you see a coyote, shoot it. Better yet, a bear. Best of all, perhaps? A wolf. How we've gotten from there to here, where such predators are reintroduced, protected, and in some cases revered, is the story Frank Van Nuys tells in Varmints and Victims, a thorough and enlightening look at the evolution of predator management in the American West.
As controversies over predator control rage on, Varmints and Victims puts the debate into historical context, tracing the West's relationship with charismatic predators like grizzlies, wolves, and cougars from unquestioned eradication to ambivalent recovery efforts. Van Nuys offers a nuanced and balanced perspective on an often-emotional topic, exploring the intricacies of how and why attitudes toward predators have changed over the years. Focusing primarily on wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, and grizzly bears, he charts the logic and methods of management practiced by ranchers, hunters, and federal officials.
Broad in scope and rich in detail, Varmints and Victims brings new, much-needed clarity to the complex interweaving of economics, politics, science, and culture in the formulation of ideas about predator species, and in policies directed at these creatures. In the process, we come to see how the story of predator control is in many ways the story of the American West itself, from early attempts to connect the frontier region to mainstream American life and economics to present ideas about the nature and singularity of the region.
"In this passionate and engaging survey of human-animal encounters in the American West, Frank Van Nuys tracks the process by which predatory animals went from being 'game's worst enemies' to faunal heroes and, in the process, advances our understanding the 'messiness' of the frontier experience. Claude Levi Strauss tells us that animals 'are good to think with'Varmints and Victims shows us that they are also good to argue about."
– Karen R. Jones, author of Wolf Mountains: The History of Wolves Along the Great Divide
"This wide-ranging and comprehensive summary of efforts to eliminate varmints since the 19th century reveals the many causes and broader significance of a shift to thinking of predators as victims. Van Nuys reveals the constant struggle between those who assail predators as varmints and those who defend them as victims."
– Christian C. Young, author of In the Absence of Predators: Conservation and Controversy on the Kaibab Plateau
"Frank Van Nuys delivers material not readily covered by other scholars and clearly needed. Varmints and Victims provides a nuanced account of the shifting ideas among administrators and experts, dealing with the usual suspectsLeopold, the Murie brothers, and George Wrightin appropriate fashion to reach the conclusion that wildlife in the American West often served as surrogates for the much older struggle over who got to make land policy decisions. An excellent synthesis."
– Thomas Dunlap, author of Saving America's Wildlife: Ecology and the American Mind, 1850-1990
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Frank Van Nuys is professor of history at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and author of Americanizing the West: Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship , 1890-1930.