Varmints and Victims
Predator Control in the American West
Frank Van Nuys
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.
“Those seeking a clear, concise administrative history of the Bureau of Biological Survey and successors such as the Fish and Wildlife Service will find Van Nuys’s narrative a compelling and useful one.”
“Van Nuys is a conscientious scholar who makes comprehensible a complicated story of human-predator relations that has always generated a great deal of emotionalism over questions of eradication and control of predators.”
—New Mexico Historical ReviewSee all reviews...
“The book’s strength is in its detailed depiction of the struggle between 20th-century science-based, and later urban-based, environmentalism and the anti-predator perspectives of government bureaus and rural cultures to find an acceptable place for predators.”
—Great Plains Research
“A splendid reconstruction, commentary, and assessment of how stockmen in the West, backed by federal authorities, extirpated wolves, cougars, and bears from most of their aboriginal ranges.”
—Journal of American History
“Predator control continues to require our attention, and Van Nuys’s work is a timely reminder of the history of our relationship with these animals.”
—Annals of Iowa
“Van Nuys thoroughly examines the extent to which humans have eliminated predators in the American West and, more recently, advocated for their restoration. He navigates the complex political deals and compromises that explain predator control’s persistence within the federal bureaucracy.”
—Chronicles of Oklahoma
“One of the strengths of the book is the way that Van Nuys moves across different scales. Although his focus is primarily regional, Van Nuys supplements this perspective with explanations of national shifts in environmental thought or scientific understanding and explorations of more local stories.”
—Western Historical Quarterly
“Van Nuys has created a compelling account of predator control in the American West. Varmints and Victims presents a complex tale told in engaging prose and will without doubt serve as an inestimable resource and impetus for future research.”
“Traces the rich history of how modern wildlife management has evolved over the past 100+ years.”
“Offers a valuable synthesis of the history of predator control. . . . Van Nuys reminds us to think about these few thousand varmints, mostly roaming around the middle of nowhere as more than just the distant victims of America's ceaseless war on wildlife. They are its survivors, and that is a fresh and badly needed historical perspective.”
—Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
“A strong resource for students seeking a better understanding of humans’ controversial relationships with predators.”
“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 suspects—Leopold, the Murie brothers, and George Wright—in 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, 1850–1990See fewer reviews...
Broad in scope and rich in detail, this work 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.