Synopses & Reviews
One of the worlds largest and most social deer species, elk—with their five- to eight-hundred-pound tawny bodies, sweeping antlers, and fascinating behaviors—draw millions of people to seek them each year in national parks and other public lands. So valued are elk for viewing, sport, and table fare, that over the past twenty-five years they have been transplanted from the West to five eastern states and Ontario, Canada. These reintroductions helped restore a treasured animal that as recently as two centuries ago roamed from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Alaska to Mexico.
Where Elk Roam provides an inside look at the field studies and conservation work of a federal wildlife scientist who for twenty-two years served as the National Elk Refuges wildlife biologist—coordinating winter feeding of eight thousand elk and tracking their births, deaths, and annual migrations throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
As entertaining as it is educating, this book brings to life the joys and rewards of working not only with elk but also a host of other remarkable species—including wolves, bears, and mountain lions.
Bruce Smith, who spent 22 years as the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist at the National Elk Refuge, tells its story with the bark off. His job required consummate skills as a biologist, scientist, social scientist, synthesizer, and politician. Now in retirement he tells it like it is and was. He uses a fascinating style of dealing with all those factors through a first person accounting and interpretation of events as they took place. And, he ponders the future of supplemental feeding of wintering elk as a management technique as nobody else could - or even dares.
Jack Ward Thomas, PhD
Chief Emeritus, U. S. Forest Service
Professor Emeritus, University of Montana
"Bruce 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 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
An inside look at working with the majestic elk—and the controversies surrounding their conservation.
About the Author
Bruce Smith, PhD, retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004 after a thirty-year career as a wildlife manager and scientist. During that time, he worked with every big game species in the western United States. Many of his publications address aspects of elk ecology and conservation.