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From the PublisherBruce Smith is the foremost expert on elk in our region and one of the most vocal proponents of healthy, free-roaming populations of this majestic animal. Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of our National Elk Herd is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand in plain English the complexities and challenges of trying to do the right thing for our nation's signature herd at the National Elk Refuge. — Mike Clark, executive director, Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
What one gets in Where Elk Roam is one of those rare gems of insight on wildlife biology most of us struggle a career for, but Smith has bound it all up nicely between two covers in a very readable and forthright way.—Author and naturalist Douglas Smith
Bruce Smith does a thorough job of describing the history—and musing the future of the National Elk Refuge (NER) in a northwest Wyoming valley called Jackson Hole. Together with Yellowstone National Park, this area was the nucleus of restoration efforts for elk in North America. This treatise is a prime example of how seasoned wildlife ecologists and managers can interweave science, politics, history, economics, and philosophy into a readable, informative, and entertaining format. The resultant story describes what modern wildlife management actually entails in that it is as much about people and people management as it is about wildlife. It could well serve as a reference for university classes dealing with wildlife management in the real world. If I were still teaching, I would have my students read Smith’s book for that very reason.
Smith weaves together his own experiences as a research biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and, then, as the lead biologist for the NER for 22 years. The book contains descriptions of experiences in the field that will stir up the emotions and memories of any experienced field biologist—including the reappearance of wolves and what that might mean for management. Those descriptions are coupled with stories of intense bio-politics across a landscape including national parks, national forests, and state and private lands. Welcome to the world of modern wildlife managers operating at the crossroads of science, law, economics, and public opinion.
In the end, Smith addresses the future of feeding elk and bison on the NER and elsewhere in Wyoming. The crowding of animals onto these feed grounds provides a reservoir for brucellosis with political and economic impacts on the livestock industry. And, it seems probable (inevitable?) that chronic wasting disease (a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy) will reach western Wyoming and spread rapidly through animals crowded onto the NER winter feed grounds and 16 other feed grounds operated by the State of Wyoming. To make matters more ominous, the agent that spreads the disease is a prion that can exist for long periods—measured in years—in the soil.
In the final analysis, Smith calls for phasing out winter feeding operations in favor of a smaller elk herd in preference to an ‘‘overstocked range riddled with disease.’’ And, significantly—in spite of the many long standing barriers to achieving that end—Smith closes with the optimistic statement that change will occur ‘‘. . . because the stakes of not changing grow every day.’’ The clock is ticking.—Jack Ward Thomas, PhD, CWB Chief Emeritus, U.S. Forest Service Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation Emeritus, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana
This important book is ostensibly about the mismanagement of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But author Bruce Smith says the underlying message is the threat of disease to wild elk throughout the Greater Yellowstone Area. Smith, who now lives in Sheridan, Montana, was for 22 years a biologist on the refuge. His primary concern is that wild elk are made increasingly susceptible to disease when winter ranges are artificially overstocked with animals, such as at Wyoming’s feed grounds. The reason for the feed grounds? To reduce competition for grass between elk and cattle. The result? Thousands of elk with brucellosis, which can be transmitted to cattle and bison, causing spontaneous abortions. An even worse threat, writes Smith, is chronic wasting disease (CWD), which has no cure or preventative. While the prevalence of CWD in freeranging elk in Wyoming is only 2 to 3 percent, it can exceed 50 percent in captive elk, which transmit it easily to each other in the crowded conditions. Having fought in
Vietnam as a U.S. Marine, Smith is no stranger to combat. And he minces no words when talking to hunters about elk. “When they complain about wolves, I just shake my head,” he says. “I tell them, ‘You have no idea what the real threats to your elk are.’ For some reason, the very real potential of devastating disease outbreaks still isn’t on their radar.” —Tom Dickson, Montana Outdoors