Author to discuss our odd relationship with suburban wildlife

REDDING — Jim Sterba, author of Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards Into Battlegrounds, will discuss his book on Saturday, May 4, at 2 p.m. at Highstead as part of its Woodland Conversations Series.

The talk is free and open to the public. Afterward there will be a book signing by the author, and light refreshments will be served. For reservations, contact Jody Cologgi, 203-938-8809 or

The book, published by Crown, is a finalist for a 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize in the category of current interest. Sterba says that Americans have become so estranged from nature that they don’t know how to cope with the wild bounty in their midst.

“It is very likely that more people live in closer proximity to more wild animals and birds in the eastern United States today than anywhere on the planet at any time in history,” he said.

He explains that throughout the 20th century, conservationists outlawed commercial hunting, created wildlife sanctuaries, transplanted isolated species to restored habitats, and imposed regulations on hunters and trappers.

Over decades, these efforts slowly nursed many wild populations back to health, and coincided with the migration of city dwellers into areas once occupied by family farms. By 2000, a majority of Americans lived in suburbia, where wild creatures have found an abundance of food, water and places to hide from hunters.

“The result is a mix of people and wildlife that should be an animal lover’s dream, but often turns into a sprawl dweller’s nightmare,” he said. “Our well-meaning efforts to protect animals have allowed wild populations to burgeon out of control, degrading ecosystems, and touching off disputes that have polarized communities and pitted neighbor against neighbor.”

Sterba cited in the book’s epilogue the Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative as an example of helping Americans understand and accept the need for managing their natural habitats and reconnecting to the outdoors.

“It means getting up in the morning darkness now and then,” Sterba writes, “walking into a forest, sitting under a tree, listening to the sounds, and watching nature’s day begin.”

Highstead, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving natural landscapes, is partnering with the Harvard Forest to execute the Wildlands and Woodlands vision, which aims to preserve 70 percent of New England’s forests over the next 50 years.

Sterba is a longtime foreign and national affairs correspondent for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in New York City with his wife, the author Frances FitzGerald.

John Burgeson