- Wildlife, Land, and People: A Century of Change in Prairie Canada by Donald G. Wetherell
Donald Wetherell's Wildlife, Land, and People is quite a book! At 600 pages and weighing in at almost four pounds, we can certainly say that it is and will be for many years the seminal and authoritative history of human-wildlife interactions in the Prairie Provinces. As such it is excellent environmental history and can be drawn on, if not really assigned due to its length, for classes on geography, wildlife studies, and cultural and environmental history, or any classes on western Canada or the northern Great Plains. It would make excellent required reading for graduate seminars in any of those fields. Wetherell includes analysis of First Nations people in the region, the scope of newcomer settler societies, especially with the impact of farming on regional wildlife, the natural history of animals, and the conservation history of wildlife protection in western Canada. Adding to the book's value are the many useful illustrations (68 total!). The university press provided an attractive layout of the whole book, interspersing the illustrations nicely throughout. Thus, Wildlife, Land, and People is truly an opus magnus.
The book's title and subtitle work well to highlight what this book is all about: human encounters with wild animals, illustrating relationships that Prairie Canadians have had with the natural world during the century from 1870 to 1970. The book is well organized, being divided into three sections—"The Animals and the Place," "Thinking about Animals," and "Connections"—and thirteen chapters, and is very well written, with an excellent conclusion. In the preface, Wetherell identifies a clear focus for this structure: "The view that ecosystems consist of interconnected relationships is a model for the structure and organization of this book.… This structure helps focus the history of people's relationships with wildlife within its cultural, intellectual, political, and economic context" (xxviii, xxix). Such relationships include predator control, sport hunting, the changing perceptions of wildlife over time, and mounting and displaying trophies in western Canada's taxidermy industry. In all these and other areas, Wetherell concludes, "Wild animals are central in the natural heritage, history, and collective memory of the Canadian prairies, and the relationships between humans and wild animals that developed there have centered on determining how their lives fit and did not fit together" (484). Analyzing those "fits" is what this book is all about. By the late 20th century Canadian perceptions and views of animals had changed so markedly that "shared stewardship approaches to managing land and wildlife" (504) had developed—from slaughter of game and commercial assets to conservation and better understanding of the role of wildlife in the larger prairie ecology and natural economy. [End Page 153]
University of Oklahoma