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Predatory Bureaucracy: The Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West Paperback – November 15, 2005
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Top customer reviews
Pearl Katz, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Unfortunately, the narrative is not only exhaustive but exhausting. Robinson has given us too much, and culled too little, to make for a compelling story. The basic structure is clear enough: cattlemen cleared out bison and put cattle in their place on the open range; wolves found cattle (and sheep) easy prey; cattlemen and other settlers organized to eliminate wolves; a scientific agency in the federal government found an opportunity to grow powerful by providing the service of wolf extermination to a wide constituency instead of doing science for a narrow constituency; and even after eliminating wolves, the BBS moved to kill other species, which it continues to do today (under a different name). Thanks to its political allies, the BBS resisted all attempts to rein it in, though the Endangered Species Act has slowed it down.
That could have been a six-chapter story. One might have expanded it to perhaps twelve chapters, to allow for changes in the players and their actions over time. Unfortunately, Robinson gives us 27 chapters. We meet a lot of individuals, whether scientists, politicians, stockmen, administrators, bounty hunters, or wolves. But Robinson tries too hard to be thorough, so we meet too many of these characters.
I realize that professional historians generally value this kind of definitive treatment of a subject, and this book certainly provides a definitive history of the wolf extermination program. More implicitly than explicitly, it raises serious questions about the complicity of government in despoiling the environment instead of protecting it. Robinson's analysis of the political support coalition behind a very destructive agency could lead any earnest young environmentalist to despair.
Even admitting all that, the book would have been better had it been shorter.