Thursday, April 07, 2011

Books + knowledge = Danger

It’s been an interesting and chaotic week. Had a great morning out on a sage grouse lek, watching and listening as the male grouse strutted and smacked each other. No hens at the lek yet, but it’s early in the breeding season. Never had any good direct light that morning (it was heavy overcast) so my photos aren’t great. The best part was getting to see a ferruginous hawk swoop in and try to take a grouse (sorry but the photos weren't good enough to post). The ferrg failed, but it was a thrilling try!

My children’s book publisher, Boyds Mills Press, sent me the layout for my next book with them, “The Guardian Team.” I’ll share it when I can, but take my word for it that it’s beautiful. It features the true story of livestock guardian dog Rena, the wild burro we adopted and named Roo, and the half-dozen orphan lambs these two raised together.

I spent most of the week slaving away on a book proposal, and that gets put in the mail tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the book will find a happy publishing home. It’s on pastoralism, is proposed as a photo essay, and is my second non-fiction title for adults.

My first non-fiction title got some attention this week as well. The book was released in October 2008, and is called “Yellowstone Wolves: A Chronicle of the Animal, the People, and the Politics.” It’s a fully footnoted history of Wyoming’s wolves, and the files that were used as references are now in the permanent collection at the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming.

Seems like the book would have been a natural title for sales in bookstores in and around Yellowstone, doesn’t it? But book sales within our national parks are controlled by “educational, non-profit institutions” in partnership with the National Park Service. Books sold by the non-profits must be approved by the park service. Apparently the park service doesn’t like my book and recommended it not be sold in Yellowstone, I was told today, “because some of the information in the book was not based on verifiable facts.”

I laughed out loud at that claim. The fact is, the book makes the park service uncomfortable because the agency doesn’t come across in a positive way, so they've blackballed it. Not for sale in the park, and the influence has spread to at least one other “educational institution” that works with the park, where I was pretty much dis-invited from a book event.

It’s depressing that unless my books tout the official policy line of the government, my books won’t appear in my neighborhood national park – one that gets more than 3 million visitors a year, offering the opportunity for substantial book sales. So please, people, support banned books! Unlike the park service and its “educational association” counterparts, here’s what some reviewers had to say:

“Yellowstone Wolves is a lively and carefully documented account of the use and abuse of science, multiple levels of politics, interpretations of the law, administration of justice, rural sociology, media, and unbridled propaganda as provided from all sides of a hideously complex subject. This book is a chronologically based, practical documentation, and the author's personal commitment to the issues is profound. … Particularly interesting is the book's unflinching insistence that agencies of the federal government represent the most important impediments to application of 'best available science' within specific issues of conservation biology." --Jason A. Lillegraven, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Geology/Geophysics and Zoology/Physiology, The University of Wyoming, 1/11/09

“Urbigkit's undeniably thorough treatment of the subject, featuring impressive historical documentation, makes this book one that no serious conservationist should overlook.” --Foreword Magazine - Reviews of Good Books Independently Published, Jan/Feb. 2009

“Cat [has] shown us the unimaginable interplay of biology, politics, factionalism, economics, and emotion that may revolve around the recognition, management, and political manipulation of an endangered species. . . . She has demonstrated the complexity and anguish of wolf conservation and provided a unique perspective on a fascinating story.” --Ronald M. Nowak, Zoologist

“Yellowstone Wolves provides a wonderful example of how wilderness management issues such as the reintroduction of a predator quickly become 'wicked' problems, involving multiple truths, conflicting science, bureaucratic and political pressures, special interest groups, concerned members of the public, and the legal system. On the wolf issue in Yellowstone, Urbigkit notes the government agencies have their own agenda, and change their policies and procedures to ensure this agenda is met. ...Urbigkit provides a valuable service by highlighting the political nature of decision making and the troubling self-selection of science to serve bureaucratic and political ends in wilderness, park, and wildlife management.” -- John Shultis, IJW book editor, August 2009, International Journal of Wilderness.

'This book is an invaluable and unique addition to the story of wolves in the greater Yellowstone area.' -- Elaine Jones Hayes, Laramie County Library System, from Wyoming Library Roundup, Fall/Winter 2009.

On the bright side, I'm proud to join the ranks of authors with banned books.


Annukka said...

I just went and purchased your book from Amazon. If I'm ever going to be lucky enough to visit Yellowstone, I'll make sure to ask for your book at the bookstore and wonder loudly why they don't have it.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thank you! I truly appreciate the support.

Anonymous said...

Though I must hang my head in shame for taking so long to get around to it, I FINALLY also just purchased this book of yours from Amazon--this post acted as another reminder!...L.B.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Lane, now is better than never! Thanks so much for buying my book - hope you like it.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to give you a review once I've read it!...L.B.

Mike Spies said...

Based on the reviews, I am not surprised that the NPS is not liking the book. Agendas permeate our government. Decisions taken from positions driven by ideology rather than factual research and dispassionate analysis is how the government seems to operate - I won't say 'works' because it is failing, and most consistently failing us in matters of environment and conservation.

I'll buy your book, and thanks for presenting an alternate viewpoint.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks Mike!