Merriam’s turkey is a bird native to the southern Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau, a subspecies that might seem at first blush an unlikely subject for intensive research. But as Harley Shaw well knows, no creature is exempt from the close scrutiny of biologists. Shaw is himself a research biologist perhaps best known for his book Soul among Lions. Although the wild turkey may be less charismatic than the puma, it offers an equal opportunity for Shaw to reflect on how we manage—or mismanage—wildlife. But while focusing on this big bird of the Southwest, his new book is really a field study of another rare species, the wildlife management professional. Stalking the Big Bird is a sober and seasoned view of what that rare breed is doing, and failing to do, in its efforts to protect the animals and landscapes that we love.
State and federal wildlife agencies have for some sixty years functioned under the belief that increased knowledge produced by research improves our ability to manage wildlife. Shaw suggests that the more we know about a species, the more difficult clear decisions may often become. He offers shrewd observations on the difficulties of interpreting and implementing research results in the face of pressures exerted by government bureaucracies, non-governmental organizations, and politically powerful loggers, ranchers, land developers, and environmentalists. He also shows that management of even a common game bird may be beyond the capabilities of responsible resource management agencies. Through stories about his own experiences studying Merriam’s wild turkey—anecdotes about the foibles of field work and the bureaucratic boondoggles of wildlife management—Shaw reveals some of the complexities involved in wildlife research.
Drawing on a lifetime of work and reflection, his book shows that sound research and effective management of this animal—and, by extension, others—are severely hampered by political agendas, social misunderstandings, inappropriate research, and above all, human indifference. As entertaining as it is informative, Stalking the Big Birdwill be of interest to environmentalists, hunters, and resource managers—or anyone confused by the practices of modern wildlife conservation. It will help both professionals and lay readers understand our relationship with one wild subspecies, and in the process get a better handle on the true goals in managing the wild.