Engineering Eden: The True Story Of A Violent Death, A Trial, And The Fight Over Controlling Nature, by Jordan Fisher Smith
The author notes in this book that the views of people regarding national parks and their regulation and operation invariably involves political matters, and that is certainly the case here. It is not very hard to figure out the author’s own political views. The hero of the book is a personal injury lawyer who once lost to Nixon in a Congressional election, he regularly praises whistleblowers and mocks the aspect of Wyoming law that makes it impossible for people to claim damages for wrongful death or injury if the victim is even partially to blame. We’re clearly dealing with an activist leftist here who views personal injury law as heroic rather than parasitic in nature. And even as someone whose views are different than those of the author, I still found much in here to appreciate, namely with regards to the failures of the government and the recognition that it was impossible not to manage nature in Yellowstone or anywhere else, and the author’s insistence on design, even if he gave pro forma discussions of unnatural selection in Yellowstone throughout the book.
This book of about 300 pages is divided into four parts. The first ten chapters take up the first part of the book, which is about Yellowstone as an American Eden, beginning with the filing of a case in Los Angeles, a comparison of the view of bears and nature in Yosemite and Yellowstone, and a discussion of the various people and animals that the book will be dealing with, including the bears of Trout Creek. The author then moves on to thirteen chapters involving natural regulation, including the killing of a lot of bears, the various political games involving scientists and wardens in the Park Service, and the relationship of attacks to efforts on the part of park staff to control food without feeding the bears properly. Four chapters look at the experience of Harry Walker in Yellowstone, including his last night when he was killed by a starving old bear, and then the last five chapters of the book look at the trial in more detail as well as its verdict and the successful appeal by the Park Service that prevented any money from being paid to the Walkers, and even some of the discussion on various laws that were urged to pay the Walkers out of tax money that were sniffed out by those opposed to this sort of pork barrel legislation.
In looking at this book, it is clear that Harry Walker did contribute to his own death through his rather foolish decision to stay in an illegal campsite. That said, it is also clear that the behavior of the government with regards to the bears of Yosemite and the desire on the part of park rangers to make things appear as natural as possible without sufficiently securing food supplies as best as possible and then making up various myths like women in their periods attracting bears through the blood or scent of the menses was irresponsible as well, in that it amounted to blaming the victim for something that was not entirely the fault of people attacked by bears either. While I am not sure whether or not the Walker family deserved any money from the government for Harry’s death, it is pretty clear that the park service did not crown themselves with glory when it came to their bear policies in Yellowstone and other places, and that they clearly let their own political worldviews get in the way of protecting people, even those people who had certainly made some errors in life and were not behaving in the best way or the most proper way themselves.